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SF 1st CA City to Fund Lawyers 4 Undocumented Kids…..Sunday Panel to Discuss Police Shootings & Peace in the Hood…. DARE Doesn’t Like Newest LA School Police Reform…& More.

August 28th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



SAN FRANCISCO IS FIRST CA CITY TO PROVIDE LAWYERS FOR UNDOCUMENTED CHILDREN & FAMILIES

On Wednesday, San Francisco officials announced a new program that will help fund legal assistance for undocumented children, families, and others facing deportation.

Of the approximately 4000 kids awaiting immigration proceedings in San Francisco, around 2,200 don’t have lawyers—a fact that has been shown to dramatically affect how their cases will play out.

According to a University of Syracuse study, between 2005 and 2014, 50 percent of the children who had an attorney present at their hearings were allowed by a judge to stay in the U.S. When a kid went to immigration court without an attorney during that same period, however, one in ten kids was permitted to stay. The other nine were deported.

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Marisa Lagos has been covering the issue. Here are some clips from her story announcing the new program:

The program, created by Supervisor David Chiu, makes San Francisco the first California city to offer such legal help. It is an expansion of an existing Right to Civil Counsel program created in 2012 that has so far focused on tenants facing evictions.

The city will give $100,000 this year to the nonprofit Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, which will use the funds to provide pro bono legal representation to San Francisco residents facing deportation, including children and families.

[BIG SNIP]

San Francisco Immigration Judge Dana Leigh Marks, speaking as head of the National Association of Immigration Judges, called the city’s program “fabulous.”

Courts, she said, are overwhelmed – there are about 375,000 immigration cases pending in the country and only 227 immigration judges. She is presiding over more than 2,400 cases.

“There’s an extreme value in having lawyers represent people in terms of the outcomes in their own cases and in terms of the effectiveness of the immigration courts,” she said. “It helps us move through the process. It helps advise people of their rights, it reduces the number of errors when they are filing applications … and it reduces delays.”

Mexican immigrant Osvaldo Diaz, 36, said access to a pro bono attorney through the Lawyers’ Committee may have saved his life. Diaz, who is gay, fled to San Jose from Mexico after facing threats because of his sexual orientation and a domestic violence situation. He was granted political asylum in 2012 and this year was awarded legal residency. He recently moved to Miami and is looking for a job.

“I didn’t even know political asylum exists,” he said, adding that even with a lawyer, the court process was frightening.

Although SF is the first CA city to launch such a program, recently Gov. Jerry Brown announced that the state will cough up $3 million for immigration lawyers. New York also has a similar program.



“PEACE IN THE HOOD” AUTHOR, AQUIL BASHEER, HOSTS PANEL THIS SUNDAY TO DISCUSS VIOLENCE PREVENTION, PUBLIC SAFETY, & COMMUNITY UPSET OVER RECENT OFFICER INVOLVED SHOOTINGS

“Communities are desperately seeking answers,” said Aquil Basheer, executive director of A Better LA and a nationally known pioneer in the field of violence intervention, in relation to the recent intense controversies over officer-involved shootings, and neighborhood violence in general.

Due to the fact that Basheer’s well-regarded and fascinating new book Peace In the Hood: Working with Gang Members to End the Violence, co-authored with veteran journalist Christina Hoag, has coincided with these most recent public storms, he has organized a panel scheduled for Sunday, featuring law enforcement and others for what promises to be a dynamic discussion.

This is the second in a series of “solution-seeking” community discussions led by Basheer, with the idea of empowering residents in Southern California’s most crime-plagued areas to reduce the levels of “violence, aggression and interpersonal hostilities” that do harm to their neighborhoods.

In addition to Basheer, the panel will include LAPD Lead Gang Unit Officer Sgt. Curtis Woodle, and LAPD Gang Liaison Officer, Sgt. Stinson Brown, forensic psychologist and consultant to the LAPD and Department of Homeland Security, Dr. Debra Warner, USC Professor of Social Work and gang expert, Robert Hernandez, LA County Fire Department Captain Brent Burton, ‘Peace In the Hood’ co-author Hoag.

The panel will be held on Sunday, August 31, from 2 PM to 5 PM at the
African American Firefighter Museum, 1401 S. Central Avenue, Los Angeles


SOUTH LA’S FRAGILE GOODWILL IS TESTED

LAPD Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger, second in command to Chief Charlie Beck, was once the popular Deputy Chief who ran the department’s South Bureau where he notably and painstakingly worked to repair the badly damaged relations between the Los Angeles Police Department and the South LA communities it polices.

But how the fragile reservoir of goodwill really is was evident in the tone of the meetings over the shooting death of Ezell Ford, that Paysinger attended.

The LA Times’ Kate Mather and Richard Winton have the story. Here’s a clip:

As Angeles police Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger sat with increasing unease at a church in South Los Angeles as residents rose one at a time to berate his department.

The meeting had been called to reassure locals about the way the LAPD and other agencies were investigating the recent fatal shooting of a mentally ill man in the neighborhood. But the event quickly boiled over into a critique of the LAPD, with residents accusing the department of racial profiling, excessive force and dishonesty.

Paysinger, the LAPD’s highest-ranking black officer and a 40-year department veteran, was disturbed by the level of anger. So the morning after last week’s community meeting, he drove to the LAPD’s Newton Division, where the fatal shooting occurred, and demanded an action plan.

“Where do we go from here?” Paysinger told the station captain. “I’m not interested in, ‘I don’t know, we’ve done everything

Whether police officers acted properly when they fatally shot Ezell Ford Jr. earlier this month remains under investigation. But the case has exposed lingering tensions as well as what some consider an erosion of the credibility and goodwill the LAPD has worked so hard for so long to build in South L.A.

“You think you’re in a good place,” Paysinger said. “But then you find yourself at that meeting.… It was patently clear to me that we need to get busy.”

Building trust in the African American community has been a top priority of the LAPD since the L.A. riots 22 years ago, which were sparked in part by the acquittal of four police officers caught on tape beating black motorist Rodney King. Even the LAPD’s harshest critics admit the department has made significant strides.

Those efforts also have been helped in no small part by a dramatic drop in crime across South L.A.

But John Mack, the former longtime L.A. police commissioner and the retired president of the L.A. Urban League, said he worried that the reaction to Ford’s death showed a backslide in the relationship.


DARE NOT THRILLED WITH MARIJUANA DECRIMINALIZATION IN LA SCHOOLS

Last week, the chief of Los Angeles School Police announced that the LASP was decriminalizing a list of less serious student behaviors that previously lead to citations or arrest. Now students would be referred to school officials for these infractions, not law enforcement.

The newly classified behaviors include most ordinary fights between students, trespassing on school property, tobacco possession, alcohol possession, and possession of small amounts of marijuana.

When LA Weekly reporter Amanda Lewis spoke to California DARE Coordinator Steve Abercrombie, she found that he was not in favor of this new policy at all.

Here’s a clip from Lewis’ story:

California DARE Coordinator Steve Abercrombie was not pleased to learn the news that the Los Angeles Unified School District had decriminalized small amounts of marijuana at its schools.

“Wow,” [Abercrombie told the Weekly]. “It seems we keep giving in more and more to different crimes and criminal activity. When does it stop? When do you finally say that you need to follow the rules?”

The district announced more lenient policies in which school police will no longer report students — or issue them tickets — if they’re involved in petty theft, most fights, or possession of alcohol, tobacco or marijuana.

The rule changes resulted from two years of talks between lawyers, judges, school police and civil rights groups who aimed to end LAUSD’s zero-tolerance policies.

One goal is to reduce the influence of campus police, softening the rules so that kids who typically get into trouble don’t drop out.

At issue, in part, is that black students make up about one-third of school police arrests, yet they make up less than 10 percent of the student population.

This, of course, is not exactly in line with the philosophy of the long-running Drug Abuse Resistance Education program.

Abercrombie says it makes more sense to train school police to stop targeting black students than it does to decriminalize weed in schools….


Posted in criminal justice, FBI, Gangs, Human rights, immigration, LAFD, LAPD, law enforcement, race, race and class, racial justice, Trauma, Violence Prevention | 2 Comments »

WLA’s Editor Wins “Online Journalist of the Year” at SoCal Journalism Awards(!)…LASD Civilian Oversight…Costly Prison Phone Calls…and More

June 30th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

WLA’S EDITOR TAKES HOME SOCAL JOURNALISM AWARD

I am very happy to report that WitnessLA’s editor, Celeste Fremon, has won 1st place at the SoCal Journalism Award for the “Online Journalist of the Year” category.

The judges called Celeste’s work for 2013: “a compelling look into problems in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. Celeste did a great job decoding complex issues into a fascinating narrative.”

The rest of the winners can be found here.


LA TIMES EDITORIAL CALLS FOR CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT OF SHERIFF’S DEPT.

Citing the Inspector General’s undefined power and tenure, an excellent LA Times editorial calls on the LA County Board of Supervisors to create a nine-person citizen’s oversight commission to watch over the Sheriff’s Department. The editorial says the commission should hold public meetings, and be free of micromanagement by the Supes, and that members should serve for set terms.

Here’s a clip:

The board started out on the right foot last year when it created the Office of Inspector General. It was designed to replace both a special counsel, who presented regular reports and recommendations to the Board of Supervisors but didn’t get enough public attention to spark any follow-up, and the Office of Independent Review, which relied too much on the sheriff’s voluntary cooperation to be a credible monitor.

But the supervisors rejected the strong recommendation of the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence to appoint the inspector general to a set term and make him removable only for good cause. And the board still hasn’t brokered an agreement with the Sheriff’s Department over the scope of the inspector general’s powers. So no matter how strong the work ethic and integrity of Inspector General Max Huntsman, he is an at-will employee of the Board of Supervisors with no law establishing his power or authority to investigate the sheriff.

Meanwhile, the county’s contracts with its previous monitors expire Monday, so for the first time in two decades there will be no independent sheriff oversight. Despite the opportunity and necessity for improvement, the county is in danger of falling backward.

Forward momentum will depend on more than new promises by the supervisors to do a better job of keeping an eye on the sheriff. It will require the board to create a citizens oversight commission that conducts its meetings in public and has the kind of insulation from micromanaging that so far the board has denied the inspector general. There should be nine members on the commission, enough for each county supervisor to appoint one while still allowing sufficient appointments by other authorities to prevent the commission from becoming the board’s proxy. Members should serve for set, nonrenewable terms, and be removable only on a showing of good cause.


LAST YEAR THE FCC LIMITED WHAT PRISONERS PAY FOR INTERSTATE CALLS, BUT COMPANIES STILL GOUGE PRISONERS FOR OTHER SERVICES

In prisons all over the country, private companies—Global Tel-Link and JPay, in particular—are charging inmates preposterously high fees for phone, internet, and money services. Unfortunately, the brunt of the costs fall on the families of the incarcerated. And there’s no real competition from other companies who might charge lower fees. Global Tel-Link and JPay both pay cash-strapped cities, counties, and states incentives to secure their contracts within prisons. (In New York State, where these commissions are forbidden, inmates pay a fraction in comparison—72 cents for a 15-minute call.)

Global Tel-Link and JPay both have contracts in California through which they overcharge California prison and jail inmates’ loved ones.

In August of last year, the FCC placed a cap on how much companies can charge inmates for interstate calls at 25 cents per minute. That was a significant victory, but Global Tel-Link and JPay can (and do) continue to charge prisoners and their families shocking fees for in-state calls, money transfers, and other services. (For previous WLA reporting on this issue, go here.)

The NY Times’ Stephanie Clifford and Jessica Silver-Greenberg have the story. Here are some clips:

It is a lucrative proposition, in part because these companies often operate beyond the reach of regulations that protect ordinary consumers. Inmates say they are being gouged by high costs and hidden fees. Friends and families say they have little choice but to shoulder the financial burden.

But private enterprises are not the only ones profiting. Eager to reduce costs and bolster dwindling budgets, states, counties and cities are seeking a substantial cut in return for letting the businesses into prisons, a review of dozens of contracts by The New York Times found. In Baldwin County, Ala., for instance, the sheriff’s department collects 84 percent of the gross revenue from calls at the county jail. A Texas company has guaranteed the county at least $55 a month per inmate, according to a copy of the contract…

Some corrections departments use the commissions to provide services, said Steve Gehrke, a spokesman for the Washington State Department of Corrections. In Washington State, all commissions go toward compensating victims and improving services like libraries.

But even some industry executives see problems with the current setup, saying the commission system encourages providers to charge inmates more, not less, for services. Companies often win contracts based on how much they will offer states via commissions, rather than the rates they charge inmates.

Global Tel-Link, of Reston, Va., has contracts with 2,200 correctional operations serving at least 1.1 million inmates. It argued in recent comments to the Federal Communications Commission that the more states and cities demand in commissions, the more it will charge inmates. “There is no free lunch,” the company said.

[SNIP]

While the F.C.C. capped interstate telephone rates at 25 cents a minute earlier this year, after agitation from prisoners’ rights advocates, local phone rates can still be steep and other fees vary widely from state to state. For instance, using a phone to transfer $10 into an inmate’s account via JPay to the Southeast Correctional Center in Charleston, Mo., costs $3.95, while a similar transfer to the Illinois Youth Center in Chicago runs $5.95.

Placing a 15-minute in-state call from a Union County, N.J., jail costs $8.50, according to the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, which recently filed a petition asking for lower in-state rates. In New York State, which does not accept commissions from providers, a 15-minute phone call costs just 72 cents.


CDC: WAYS TO PREVENT YOUTH VIOLENCE

Every day in the US, an average of 13 kids, teens, and young adults (between the ages of 10-24) are victims of homicide, and more than 1600 are treated in hospitals for assault-related injuries. In fact, homicide is the third leading cause of death in young people nationwide. And 10-to-24-year-olds comprised 40% of arrests for violent crimes in 2012.

A new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that youth violence and its devastating effects on kids (especially minorities), families, and their neighborhoods can be prevented, and lists evidence-based solutions communities can implement to counteract this violence.

The report suggests a number of tools and programs, from parenting and family training, to bolstering early childhood education, to data gathering, and policy-reform. Here are some examples:

The Strengthening Families program teaches parents to use discipline, manage their emotions, and communicate with their child and teaches youth strategies to deal with peer pressure, manage stress, and solve problems. Evaluations of this program have shown significant reductions in aggression, hostility, and conduct problems and improvements in parent’s limit-setting, parent-child communication, and youth’s prosocial behavior.

Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care is for youth who need out-of-home placements and includes extensive training of foster parents, family therapy for biological parents, skills training and support for youth, and school-based academic and behavioral supports. This program has been shown to significantly reduce delinquency, violence, and violent crime and sustain improvements over time.

Cure Violence (formally known as CeaseFire) works to interrupt violence, particularly shootings, and change norms about the acceptability and inevitability of violence. An evaluation found reduced shootings and killings and fewer retaliatory killings in most communities where the program was implemented.

These smart, evidenced-based recommendations are a hearteningly long way from the Superpredator theory of the mid-1980s.


TWO DIE IN LASD CUSTODY

Two people died in LA County Sheriff’s Dept. custody on Saturday. A man suspected of being under the influence of drugs was arrested in Lancaster after struggling with deputies. The man became unresponsive in the back of the patrol car, and officers were unable to revive him.

And later that afternoon, a woman was found dead in her bunk at the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station jail. The woman had been booked on possession of a controlled substance two days prior, on Thursday.

LASD homicide detectives, Internal Affairs, and the LA Coroner’s Office are investigating both deaths.

KPCC has the story.

Posted in journalism, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, Violence Prevention, women's issues | 27 Comments »

Detained Kids More Likely to Die Violently….Audit on Illegal Sterilizations of Female Prisoners….Criminalizing Truancy….and More

June 20th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

KIDS IN JUVENILE DETENTION HAVE MUCH HIGHER RISK OF VIOLENT DEATH THAN PEERS

Kids who are detained in juvenile facilities have a much higher likelihood of dying an early, violent death than kids who are not involved in the juvenile justice system, according to a new Northwestern University study.

The study looked at 1,829 kids, ages 10 to 18, who had been housed at a Juvenile Detention Center in Chicago between 1995 and 1998 and followed them until 2011. The detained girls tracked in the study were nearly five times more likely to die than their peers in the general population. Minorities also died at a rate much higher than the general population.

NPR’s Maanvi Singh has more on the study. Here’s a clip:

The researchers interviewed 1,829 people, ages 10 to 18, who were detained at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center in Chicago between 1995 and 1998. The young people were arrested for a variety of reasons, but they weren’t necessarily convicted of a crime.

The researchers continued to follow up with them over the years. By 2011, 111 of them had died, and more than 90 percent of them were killed with guns. The findings were published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

“I would have anticipated the death rate to be somewhat higher [than that of the general population], but not the figures that you see,” [lead author of the study, Linda Teplin,] tells Shots.

Young women in the study died at much higher rates than their peers in part because the rate of violent death among women in the general population is relatively low, the researchers say.

Delinquent youths from every demographic group died at significantly higher rates than their peers from the Chicago area. And their death rates were nearly twice those of combat troops in wartime Iraq and Afghanistan, the researchers say.

But minorities were at particular risk. African-American men in this study had the highest mortality rates, and they were 4 1/2 as likely as the white men to die of homicide. Latino men were five times as likely to die as the general population, and Latino women were nine times as likely to die early.

Lack of access to mental health care and other resources may be an important factor. The vast majority of these young delinquents come from poor communities, Teplin says. “Detention centers are where poor kids go. Wealthier kids have other options.”

The researchers never encountered a juvenile from the affluent suburbs of Chicago, she says. Even though young people from wealthy families may abuse and sell drugs, they generally have better support systems and access to treatments.

The kids who end up in juvenile detention often have mental health or substance abuse problems, Teplin notes, but they don’t get the care they need.


STATE AUDIT ON CALIFORNIA PRISONS’ UNAUTHORIZED STERILIZATIONS OF FEMALE INMATES

Last summer, Corey Johnson from the Center for Investigative Reporting uncovered evidence that, between 2006 and 2013, 144 women in California prisons were sterilized against state policy.

Now, a state audit has come back with some startling details on the sterilizations. For instance, 39 of the surgeries were performed without proper legal consent from the women, and that all 144 inmates had been incarcerated at least once before.

The Center for Investigative Reporting has more on the audit. Here are some of the other findings:

Inmates receiving tubal ligations typically were between 26 and 40 and had been pregnant five or more times before being sterilized. Fifty white women, 53 Latino women, 35 black women and six women classified as “other” received the procedure.

Most of the women tested at less than a high school level of reading proficiency, the report stated, with about one-third of the inmates who received the surgery reading below the sixth-grade level.

In 27 cases, the inmate’s physician – the person who would perform the procedure in a hospital or an alternate physician – did not sign the required consent form asserting that the patient appeared to be mentally competent and understood the lasting effects of the procedure and that the required waiting period had been satisfied.

Read on.


DEBTOR’S PRISON FOR IMPOVERISHED PARENTS OF TRUANT KIDS

A Philadelphia mother serving a two-day sentence for her child’s truancy died in her jail cell on Saturday. Incarcerating impoverished parents for their inability to pay truancy fines is yet another example of America’s modern debtors’ prison. (Here is another example.)

In a story for the Chronicle of Social Change, Carla Benway (Vice-President, Employee and Program Development, Youth Advocate Programs) explains why criminalizing truancy is a harmful practice that does not actually reduce absenteeism, because it fails to address the underlying reasons why kids miss school. Here are some clips:

A stay-at-home mother of seven children died in a Berks County jail this week. The cause of Eileen DiNino’s death is unknown. The reason for her incarceration is.

Eileen DiNino was jailed because she was poor. She was serving a 48-hour sentence to erase about $2,000 in court costs and truancy fines for several of her children dating back to 1999 that she was unable to pay.

Incarcerating the poor for their inability to pay fines is a real and current issue in America highlighted in a series last month by NPR and in this short documentary by Brave New Films. Berks County, the economically depressed area of Pennsylvania where DiNino lived with her seven children, has jailed more than 1,600 parents since 2000. Two-thirds of them are women.

Maryland, California, Alabama, Texas, Virginia, Georgia, Michigan and North Carolina and other states have also used truancy laws to send parents to jail. Millions of dollars in fines are collected annually for truancy. Parents who end up in jail for truancy are those who can’t afford to pay the court-imposed fines or the risk of harsher sentences that may be imposed through trial.

In a recent example in Arizona, a mother “chose” to accept one day in jail as opposed to going to trial. “If she had gone to trial, it’s a trial by judge, not by a jury, the judge could have chosen whatever. She could have given her the full 15 days.”

Is that a choice, really? How many mothers can risk being away from their children for 15 days?

[SNIP]

I am not clear on how the “blunt instrument” of parental incarceration is effective at fighting future truancy. Frankly, the research and my own experience suggest the opposite.

In our work at Youth Advocate Programs, Inc., we see many issues affecting school attendance. For some, the challenges are concrete: lack of winter clothing or inability to pay for a bus pass.

For others, it is more complex. The reasons include:

Older siblings taking care of younger siblings while their parent(s) work because they can’t afford child care

Youth working to help financially support the family

Youth with legitimate safety concerns, severe anxiety, or other emotional or learning challenges that find school a hostile or unsafe environment

Parents with severe mental health needs or addictions that impact their ability to provide the structure and support their children need; and parents who are simply overwhelmed with their various economic and life stressors.

If we fail to understand and address the reason a youth is truant, we will fail to reduce truancy.

Be sure to read the rest.


SCOTUS MOVES TO PROTECT PUBLIC EMPLOYEE WHISTLEBLOWERS

On Thursday, the US Supreme Court voted to protect public employees from being fired or disciplined for testifying in court about misconduct in the workplace. This decision could be vital for whistleblowers in law enforcement, where the code of silence is particularly pervasive. (WLA has already gotten emails from relieved LASD employees.)

The LA Times’ David Savage has the story. Here’s a clip:

The 9-0 decision bolsters the rights of tens of millions of government employees, but its reach is narrow. The ruling covered only those who are ordered to give “truthful testimony under oath.”

“Speech by citizens on matters of public concern lies at the heart of the 1st Amendment,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote for the court. “This remains true when speech concerns information related to or learned through public employment.”

The unanimous ruling revived a free-speech lawsuit by a former Alabama community college official who said he lost his job for telling the truth.

Edward Lane had been appointed to direct the college’s program for underprivileged youth and soon learned that an influential state representative was drawing a paycheck but doing no work. Lane told Rep. Suzanne Schmitz she had to report for work or be fired. His superiors warned him to be cautious, because she could cut funds for the college system.

Undaunted, Lane fired Schmitz, and the FBI later launched a corruption probe. Lane was ordered to testify, and the state representative was convicted and sentenced to prison.

When funding for the college was cut, Lane was dismissed. He sued several college officials, alleging he was a victim of illegal retaliation…

Posted in juvenile justice, prison, Supreme Court, Violence Prevention, women's issues | No Comments »

Combatting Crime by Paying People to Not Kill, Repaying the Wrongfully Convicted, and SoCal Districts Cutting Suspensions

June 18th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

RICHMOND, CALIFORNIA PAYS PEOPLE AT RISK OF VIOLENT CRIME TO STAY AWAY FROM TROUBLE

In 2006, the Contra Costa city of Richmond, CA had one of the highest homicide rates in the nation. The situation was so dire, the city authorized an unheard of new program that would identify the most likely to shoot someone or be shot, and pay them to keep out of trouble.

Four times per year, the Office of Neighborhood Safety, conceived and developed by DeVone Boggan, selects 50 candidates under 25, and enrolls them in an 18-month program. Participants receive a monthly stipend between $300 and $1000 for 9 of those months, along with education, mentoring, and other services.

The program has its critics, and it has yet to be thoroughly evaluated, but it may actually be working. In 2013, Richmond saw its lowest homicide rate in 33 years, and 65 of 68 of the young men who had been enrolled in the program over the previous four years were still alive.

Tim Murphy has the story for the July/August issue of Mother Jones Magazine. Here are some clips:

It was a crazy idea, but Richmond, California, wouldn’t have signed off on DeVone Boggan’s plan if it had been suffering from an abundance of sanity. For years, the Bay Area city had been battling one of the nation’s worst homicide rates and spending millions of dollars on anti-crime programs to no avail. A state senator compared the city to Iraq, and the City Council debated declaring a state of emergency. In September 2006, a man was shot in the face at a funeral for a teenager who had been gunned down two weeks earlier, spurring local clergy to urge city hall to try something new—now. “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten,” says Andre Shumake Sr., a 56-year-old Baptist minister whose son was shot six times while riding his bicycle. “It was time to do something different.”

Richmond hired consultants to come up with ideas, and in turn, the consultants approached Boggan. It was obvious that heavy-handed tactics like police sweeps weren’t the solution. More than anything, Boggan, who’d been working to keep teen offenders out of prison, was struck by the pettiness of it all. The things that could get someone shot in Richmond were as trivial as stepping out to buy a bag of chips at the wrong time or in the wrong place. Boggan wondered: What if we identified the most likely perpetrators and paid them to stay out of trouble?

Boggan submitted his proposal. He didn’t expect the city to come back and ask him to make it happen. “They asked me for a three-year commitment and told me to put on my seatbelt,” he recalls.

In late 2007, Boggan launched the Office of Neighborhood Safety, an experimental public-private partnership that’s introduced the “Richmond model” for rolling back street violence. It has done it with a mix of data mining and mentoring, and by crossing lines that other anti-crime initiatives have only tiptoed around. Four times a year, the program’s street team sifts through police records and its own intelligence to determine, with actuarial detachment, the 50 people in Richmond most likely to shoot someone and to be shot themselves. ONS tracks them and approaches the most lethal (and vulnerable) on the list, offering them a spot in a program that includes a stipend to turn their lives around. While ONS is city-funded and has the blessing of the chief of police, it resolutely does not share information with the cops. “It’s the only agency where you’re required to have a criminal background to be an employee,” Boggan jokes.

So far, the results have been promising: As this story went to press, 65 of the 68 “fellows” enrolled in the program in the previous 47 months were still alive. One had survived a shooting and three had died. In 2007, when Boggan’s program began, Richmond was America’s ninth most dangerous city, with 47 killings among its 106,000 residents. In 2013, it saw its lowest number of homicides in 33 years, and its homicide rate fell to 15 per 100,000. Rates are dropping nationwide, but not so steeply. (In 2013, nearby Oakland’s homicide rate was 23 per 100,000; Detroit’s was 47 per 100,000.)

[SNIP]

Here’s how it works: A team of seven “neighborhood change agents” patrol the streets like beat cops, keeping tabs on the 50 high-risk members of what Boggan calls the “focus group.” The coordinators, most of them former convicts, check in with their sources at corner stores, barbershops, and churches and report back daily on what they’ve heard. “I want us to hunt ‘em like they hunt, and I want us to hunt for information,” Boggan says. “We have better information than the police.” Once a certain level of trust has been established between the coordinators and their targets, a meeting is arranged, and the pitch is made.

In exchange for shunning dangerous behavior, ONS fellows receive anywhere from $300 to $1,000 per month, depending on their progress following a “life map” of personal and professional goals. If they team up with someone from a rival community to renounce violence altogether, they can get even more money—though that’s yet to happen. Fellows can receive stipends for 9 of their 18 months in the program. The city gave ONS $1.2 million for its operating budget last year, but the money for the stipends came from a handful of private donors, including the health care giant Kaiser Permanente. (A Kaiser spokeswoman says the program is good for “diffusing community tensions and reducing violence,” thereby limiting stress-related health risks like heart disease, strokes, and diabetes.)

ONS staffers help fellows take concrete steps toward stability, from providing assistance in getting a driver’s license or a GED to helping raise $5,000 for a merchant-marine training class. Though the program officially cuts off when fellows turn 25, Boggan says ONS tries to stay in touch with them as long as possible.

[SNIP]

“The analogy here is infectious disease,” says Barry Krisberg, a UC-Berkeley criminologist who has advised Boggan. For years, crime fighters had combated epidemics of violence by quarantining criminals in prison. Boggan took what he’d seen in other cities and adopted a new course of treatment: By inoculating the carriers of violence, perhaps you can protect an entire community.


HOW MUCH DO INNOCENT PEOPLE RECEIVE AFTER THEY ARE EXONERATED?

NPR’s Planet Money takes a look at what kind of payment people who are wrongfully convicted receive for every year of their incarceration.

The federal government and 17 states pay a fixed amount per year, and some states evaluate compensation case-by-case, but there are 21 states that offer no money to innocent people who go to prison.

From the pool of states paying a fixed amount to people who have been exonerated, Texas pays the most at $80,000 per year spent behind bars, and Wisconsin pays the least at $5,000. Experts say that the states offering a moderate fixed amount are likely trying to avoid a lawsuit and a higher settlement later.

Here’s a clip:

Several states and the federal government offer $50,000 per year for people wrongly convicted in federal court. Why is that such a common figure?

Federal payments were set by a law passed a decade ago. At that time, Alabama had the highest compensation at $50,000 per year, so the feds simply decided to match that, according to Stephen Saloom, policy director at the Innocence Project. Other states may have followed the lead of the federal government.

“There doesn’t seem to be any other rationale behind the number,” said Paul Cates, also at the Innocence Project.

Unfortunately, even in states that offer compensation, the claim process is often complicated. For instance, California pays $36,500 per year of wrongful incarceration, but (as of 2013) only 11 of 132 exonerees from the year 2000 on, have actually received the money. (Late last year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that would make the process easier.)


SOCAL SCHOOL DISTRICTS LOWER SUSPENSIONS, BEAT THE STATE AVERAGE

According to a new UCLA study, four out of five Southern California counties achieved lower suspension rates than the statewide average. The study compares data from the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 school years. Los Angeles, Ventura, Riverside, and San Bernardino together reduced their suspensions by 37,325 over the previous year, while also decreasing the racial disparity.

The LA Times’ Teresa Watanabe has more on the data. Here’s a clip:

Districts in Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties imposed 37,325 fewer suspensions last year than the year before and posted sharper declines in their respective suspension rates than the statewide average, according to an analysis of selected California counties by the UCLA Civil Rights Project.

L.A. County, for instance, reduced its rate by about 42% more than the state; the other counties outperformed the state by 12% for San Bernardino, 59% for Riverside and 60% for Ventura.

Orange County’s reduction equaled the state average. But Orange reported the lowest number of suspensions per 100 students last year — 3.4 compared with 9.12 for San Bernardino County and 5.10 for Los Angeles County, according to the analysis of state discipline data released last week.

“These are unquestionably positive results. California school districts are beginning to understand that extreme suspension-first policies neither improve school climate nor boost academic achievement,” said Daniel J. Losen, the study’s lead author and director of the UCLA project.

Losen added, however, that suspension rates remained too high and that students are still sent home on a daily basis for minor infractions unrelated to fighting or drugs.

In another interesting example of why stamping out harsh school discipline is so critical, data from the New York Dept. of Probation shows that, last year, kids entered the juvenile justice system at a rate 53% higher in May than in August. Because summer is traditionally a higher crime season, the data suggests that schools are pushing kids into the juvenile justice system.

WNYC News’ Kathleen Horan has the story. Here’s how it opens:

New York City has the largest school district in the country and a reputation for doling out harsh penalties. Even the Justice Department has warned that routine infractions should land a student in the principal’s office — not in a police precinct. As another school year wraps up, pressure is on Mayor Bill de Blasio to announce discipline policy reforms.

The kind of trouble that can land students in jail is more likely to happen while while they’re in school rather than out on summer break. Fifty percent more juveniles went through the criminal justice system in May 2013 than in August that year, according to Department of Probation intake data. “They aren’t better behaved during the summer than the winter,” observed former DOP Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi, in February. “They’re just less surveilled.”

As senior advisor in the administration’s Office of Criminal Justice, Schiraldi is now focused on coming up with a plan that will help reduce the number of kids getting hauled out of school in handcuffs, attempting to close what has come to be known as the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

Posted in Innocence, juvenile justice, School to Prison Pipeline, Violence Prevention, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 1 Comment »

U.S. Rep. Tony Cárdenas & Judge Nash Join to Push for State $$ for Student Needs Not More School Police

June 16th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



U.S. Rep. Tony Cárdenas and LA County Children’s Court Presiding Judge Michael Nash, plus representatives of several community and civil rights groups,
will hold a press conference at 2 pm on Monday on the steps of Los Angeles City Hall to urge the board of the Los Angeles Unified School District to direct several million in funds toward “research-proven programs that help keep students in school,” as originally intended, rather than reallocating those same funds to provide more $$ for school police.

(NOTE: We first reported on the questionable budget priority issue here.)

At issue is a pot of money designated by California’s 2013-enacted Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), that advocates say is supposed to be used to “improve education for students from low-income areas, foster youth, and English language learners.” The Dignity in Schools-Los Angeles Campaign of students, parents and civil rights groups, which Cárdenas and Nash are supporting, has proposed that the money go specifically to hire restorative justice counselors and other student supports to increase student engagement, attendance and graduation, and to prevent suspensions that tend to lead to greater dropout stats.

Instead, LAUSD’s current LCFF proposal includes $13 million to be added to the school police budget that Cárdenas and Nash say comes directly from “supplemental and concentration funds” that the California Legislature intended to address inequities in student outcomes.

“Keeping our kids out of the juvenile justice system starts with making sure they’re in school and learning,” said Cárdenas about the LAUSD budget priorities. Cárdenas passed the landmark Schiff-Cárdenas Act in the California Legislature to evenly fund both police and restorative justice efforts in California schools, and has introduced similar legislation in Congress.

“We know our kids get off track sometimes,” he said. “This is the time of their lives where they are learning and making the decisions that will guide their lives. Counselors and mental health services are the only effective way we have found to help them avoid bad decisions and recover from those they do make. This is about our next generation. We must protect them, give them the wisdom we have learned and try our best to turn them into productive, valued members of our community.”

Judge Nash is, if anything, even more adamant on the topic. “The communities intended to benefit from LCFF are in dire need of every supportive resource-based approach available,” he said in a letter to LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy. “I do not see a reasonable nexus between law enforcement and specifically improving the educational experience and outcomes for our most vulnerable student populations.”

We at WitnessLA agree.

PS: It should be noted that studies by the independent Rand Corporation have shown that the Schiff-Cárdenas Act of 2000 has both reduced juvenile incarceration and lowered spending burdens for California taxpayers.

We’ll keep you posted on the outcome of this issue.

Posted in Civil Rights, Education, Violence Prevention, Youth at Risk, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 1 Comment »

Head of LA Anti-Gang Dept. Resigns…Realignment, “Flash” Arrests, and the Battle Against Recidivism…and More

January 6th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

GUILLERMO CESPEDES TO LEAVE POST AS “ANTI-GANG CZAR,” AND WHAT THAT MEANS FOR LA

Director of LA’s Office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development, Guillermo Cespedes—whose innovative gang violence reduction efforts were considered an integral element in the city’s crime decrease over his nearly four-and-a-half-year tenure, and in helping kids stay out of gangs altogether—will be resigning this Thursday. Cespedes will be taking a position at Creative Associates International, in the organization’s crime and violence prevention division for Honduras and El Salvador.

On Thursday’s Air Talk, Frank Stoltze (filling in for Larry Mantle) talks to Cespedes, along with LA City Councilman and Chair of Public Safety Committee, Joe Buscaino, and UCLA violence reduction expert, Jorja Leap, about Cespedes’ move, his legacy and what the future holds for gang intervention in LA.

Here are a few clips from the highlights:

[Cespedes] On why he is leaving his post as anti-gang czar:

“I think that for me this is a natural evolution of the work that we’ve done in LA. It’s sort of interesting that people are framing it as me leaving LA, rather than the work is evolving. To me it’s a logical next chapter.

“Most of this started back in 2011, I was called into an officer involved shooting in Rampar/Pico-Union, a 17-year-old got killed, he happened to be gang-involved. I’m giving the mother the news and about 14 members of his family. She says to me, ‘I need to call his father and give him the news’…It dawned on me that she was calling El Salvador. I went back to the office and said to the staff that our concept of a grid zone is much larger than what we think, and probably about three months later I made my first trip to El Salvador. The motivation for it was to connect the work that we’re doing here with I think very important work that is being done there and those two elements need to connect.

[SNIP]

[Cespedes] On the basis of his programs to reduce gang violence:

Number one, you have to engage the people who are perpetrating the violence if you want to reduce violence. You cannot put up a lightbulb and hope that lighting up the neighborhood is going to reduce violence. You have to physically engage in an ethical way with the people who are perpetrating the violence. Number two, I believe we have to focus on behavior, not identity. We learned that from LAPD that blanketing a neighborhood based on a person’s identity backfired all through the ’70s, the ’80s and the ’90s. You have to look at specific behavior, who i perpetrating that behavior, not the entire neighborhood.

“Statistically, what we know from empirical data is little at 3 percent and as high as 15 percent of youth living in those marginalized communities…will likely become gang members… We used to think of dangerous neighborhoods, we used to think of youth violence, as if that came with the term, youth. I think if we look at data, this might not be the most violent generation of youth in decades, but yet youth violence seems to be like a first and last name… In LA we really had to break apart some assumptions, including what we think a family is.”

[SNIP]

[Buscaino] We’re excited…to work with the new mayoral administration and expanding the success of the grid program, as well as working forward with the county, and improving coordination and communication amongst the departments…

[SNIP]

[Jorja Leap] I do think there’s work to do… And I think we’ve got to look at reentry. We’ve got AB109—we’ve got prison realignment—and I think this is going to be a challenge…let’s celebrate the success, but let’s look to sustaining it. We need to stay the course.

(There’s a lot more, so be sure to go listen to the rest.)

EDITOR’S NOTE: We at WLA are fans of Cespesdes and are sorry to see him go—even though we know that LA’s loss will be Central America’s gain.


LA COUNTY’S STRUGGLE AGAINST RECIDIVISM, POST-REALIGNMENT

Since realignment began two years ago, and thousands of state prisoners were put under county oversight, LA County’s Probation Dept. has made considerable efforts to reduce recidivism. It has been no simple task.

One tactic the department has utilized, with mixed success, “flash” incarceration, allows probation officers to send supervision-violators to jail for up to ten days. Before realignment, probation-violators were usually sent back to state prison, which was expensive, mostly ineffective, and jammed the prison system.

So far, the new methods have had a small measurable success against rearrests, but the probation department has struggled to break the jail cycle. In December, nearly 20% of the realignment probationers had a current arrest warrant for absconding.

The LA Times’ Abbey Sewell has the story. Here are some clips:

Though hundreds of millions of dollars in increased state funding has been allocated to the county for the realignment program, local officials say it’s not enough to lock up, rehabilitate and keep track of the expanded population of criminals. Moreover, they contend that most of those the state indicated would be non-serious offenders have been assessed by local law enforcement officers to be high risks for committing new crimes.

[SNIP]

Use of the new ["flash" incarceration] tactic in Los Angeles County jumped nearly 300% in the second year of realignment to 10,000 “flash” arrests, a county analysis shows. Nearly half of those ex-inmates were incarcerated two or more times, with one jailed 13 times.

About 60% of a group of 500 felons shifted to county supervision in the first year of realignment were arrested for new crimes or violating probation — slightly higher than the 56% recidivism rate for former state prisoners overall, according to data from county and state studies.

Jeffrey Callison, a spokesman with the state’s corrections department, noted that those statistics show a slight reduction in rearrests of former prison inmates. That is cause to be “cautiously optimistic” that the program will disrupt cycles of crime in the future, he said.

However, the figures also show more churning through the jail system among ex-prisoners like Azevedo. Since realignment began, the proportion of former state inmates arrested four or more times in the first year after their release increased from 7% to 12%.

That’s partly the result of an increasing reliance on flash jail stays. They are seen as a less costly and less severe option for getting nonviolent offenders off the street — and getting probationers to change their behavior — than longer sentences that exacerbate overcrowding in county jails.

Supporters of realignment say the mini-sentences appear to be working: Most felons jailed for the short terms haven’t been rearrested on similar violations. They also note that repeat offenders can be sentenced to three months in jail.

[SNIP]

“If there’s anything we can do while they’re sitting in the county jail, a captive audience, to keep them from absconding when those gates are opened, we’re going to do it,” said county Probation Department Assistant Chief Margarita Perez, whose agency sought a lead role in realignment and is getting $80 million for the program this year.

Ultimately, prison reform advocates and state officials predict the new system will encourage alternatives to incarceration, allow offenders to be near their families and help them break drug habits and patterns of criminal behavior that return them to state prison.

So far, that hasn’t worked for Azevedo, 27, a self-described third-generation street gang member whose criminal history began when he was a child in the small northern Orange County city of Placentia…

After leaving Calipatria State Prison in April 2012, Azevedo ignored a requirement to report to an L.A. county probation officer and went back to the streets in Pacoima, where a girlfriend waited.

He was flash incarcerated six times and had his probation revoked four of those times. After each release from jail, he fled from county supervision…


THE IMPORTANCE OF REHABILITATION OUTSIDE OF JUVENILE CAMPS

KPCC’s Rina Palta has a worthwhile story about the finite value of juvenile camps and the new and welcome shift of focus toward youths’ reentry into the community. Here’s a clip:

L.A.’s Deputy Probation Chief Felicia Cotton says even when kids are successful in camp, once they go home, they often fall back to old behaviors.

“You’ll hear many people, and even parents that come to us and say, ‘hey take this kid and when we get him back, he’s going to be perfect,’” Cotton says. “Camp is not a cure-all.”

This belief – that camp is of limited value – is a cultural shift that’s growing inside L.A. County’s Probation Department. Now, Cotton says, camp is seen more as an intervention that momentarily plucks a kid from their ecosystem and tries to give them the skills to deal with whatever caused the behavior that led to detention.

“Because the real rehabilitation comes when they get in their natural ecology,” Cotton says.

Under a policy change being implemented over the past few months, more and more attention goes into planning for life back in the community. Each child leaving camp now has a team to plan his or her transition.


A SMALL UPDATE FROM THE LA SHERIFF CAMPAIGN-FRONT

Downtown News named sheriff-hopeful Bob Olmsted in their top seven Los Angeles political figures to watch in 2014, saying that if Olmsted “raises enough cash and gains steam, he could topple the king [Sheriff Lee Baca].”

Read about Olmsted and the other expected movers and shakers of 2014 here, at the top of page two.

Posted in Gangs, juvenile justice, Los Angeles County, Probation, Realignment, Reentry, Rehabilitation, Violence Prevention | 4 Comments »

Brown Hopeful About Prison Negotiations…Crucial Justice Programs Denied Federal Funding…LAPD’s New Digital “Library of Homicide”…and More

November 20th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

A LIGHT AT THE END OF THE PRISON-OVERCROWDING TUNNEL?

On Tuesday, Gov. Jerry Brown sounded hopeful for the first time regarding coming to a potential agreement with California prisoners attorneys. Brown also again called for an extension on the state’s deadline for a workable plan that would persuade federal judges to grant a larger extension on the court-ordered prison population reduction. Part of that plan will require successful negotiations (months in the making) with inmate attorneys that have brought suit against the state over prison conditions.

(Brown was also to meet this week with all of California’s 33 wardens and a number of prison administrators to discuss prison conditions.)

The LA Times’ Anthony York has the story. Here are some clips:

As ordered by federal judges, the Brown administration has been in talks with attorneys for inmates whose lawsuits led the court to declare the prisons unconstitutionally crowded.

“I’m reasonably optimistic that we’re going to come to something that we can make work,” Brown said at a charity event in the capital.

The governor said the meetings, moderated by state appellate Judge Peter Siggins, have “been collaborative and informative.”

But he declined to provide details. The parties are under orders not to discuss specifics of the negotiations.

Lawyers for the prisoners declined to assess the progress of the talks.

“I really don’t think it’s appropriate for me to comment at this point,” said Don Specter, an attorney for the plaintiffs, “though I’m glad to see that the governor is optimistic about it.”

The optimism is a shift for Brown, who had previously dismissed any suggestion that the two sides could reach an accord. He declared in September that he would not let inmates rewrite prison policies.

[SNIP]

On Tuesday, the governor called for more time to comply with the court. He cited the recent problems with the new federal healthcare rollout as a reason to proceed with caution.

“When government embarks on major programs, it should do so with humility and caution and a lot of planning,” he said. “So whenever people say ‘Hey, we need 10,000 fewer people in prison, do something,’ I want to do that something very carefully.”


EFFECTS OF HUGE FEDERAL FUNDING CUTS TO STATE AND LOCAL JUSTICE SYSTEMS

A new report from the Vera Institute found that between 2010 and 2013, federal funding decreased by 43% for such state and local criminal justice areas as law enforcement, juvenile justice programs, victim assistance, courts, and community-based strategies.

Here’s what some of those seeing the detrimental effects of the cuts have to say:

“When funded we have been able to reduce criminal recidivism by up to 50 percent by providing education, resources and social services intervention to persons returning to the community from custody. When cuts are made, these same persons are more likely to return to custody, which results in more substantial costs of incarceration, and families returning to social service assistance.”
— Manager in education and prevention in California

“Our federal [Byrne] JAG funds help to support our juvenile diversion program which has a 96 percent success rate. With the reduction in funds we will no longer be supporting this program with federal dollars. Over 80 children are served annually in this program.”
— Juvenile justice manager in Florida

“Our Behavioral Health Therapeutic Drug Court program recently completed a review of our success for recidivism. We found that, before Drug Court participation, defendants recidivated (new felony charges over a two-year period) at a rate of approximately 75 percent. After Drug Court participation, that rate decreased to 25 percent; for our graduates, the rate decreased to 11 percent. The costs savings can almost not even be computed, when one considers the impact for improving public safety and return- ing citizens to productive, tax-paying status. Without federal discretionary funds, our program (and others across the country) would have to be reduced or eliminated.”
— Manager in Washington state

“We’ve experienced a total loss of funding for a residential program serving juvenile males with sexual assault histories; those youths are now being served at residential treatment centers in other Texas communities, away from home and not in coordina- tion with local treatment providers. There has also been a loss of funding for First Offender Programming, which enables law enforcement to refer youth charged with minor crimes and their parents to an educational/skills-building program. Drug Court funding has also been severely decreased, pushing eligible youth further into the juvenile justice system without treatment.”
— Texas budget and administration manager in juvenile justice


BUILDING THE LAPD’S “LIBRARY OF HOMICIDE”

The LAPD, through a helpful new partnership with the FBI, is digitizing thousands of cold case files into a homicide database that detectives can access instantly—instead of spending anywhere from hours to weeks searching through boxes of binders for information when victims’ loved ones have unanswered questions.

The LA Times’ Nicole Santa Cruz has the story. Here are some clips:

Adrian McFarland awoke in a panic. His brother had come to him again in a dream. In this one, McFarland walked into a bar and there his brother stood, flashing a toothy smile.

But Charles had been gone for nearly two decades, shot to death in Los Angeles when he was 27.

McFarland, younger by four years, knew little about the crime. The dreams, he thought, were a sign. After all these years, had anyone been caught?

A few days later, LAPD Det. Mark Hahn’s phone rang. McFarland was on the line from Monroe, La., with questions long unasked…

Usually, answers would have been hard to come by, especially for a case so old.

But this time, Hahn knew where to turn: to the detectives creating the Los Angeles Police Department’s first library of homicide…

A large lecture room serves as the homicide library’s headquarters. It’s lined with blue and black binders labeled with names and dates, and in the middle of the room files are neatly organized in rows. This is where Det. Teddy Hammond maintains a spreadsheet tracking the location of each file…

For two years, Hammond and several other detectives have organized the binders, getting them ready to be scanned. They’ve seen crime scene photos, Polaroids of witnesses, medical reports, notes scrawled on yellowing paper.

The task wasn’t feasible before because of a lack of resources, but this first-of-its-kind partnership with the FBI will place sought-after information a click away for detectives, who sometimes spend weeks tracking down a file’s location. When the database is complete, investigators will be able to search any aspect of a murder book, including license plate numbers and gang monikers.

First, the department plans to digitize more than 4,500 files from the southern part of the city — long the deadliest — between 1990 and 2010. Eventually, cases from the entire city will be included. Officials plan to open the doors to a brick-and-mortar library where families can go for answers and detectives can check out files.

“No case will be lost,” said Tom McMullen, a recently retired LAPD captain, who oversaw the group of detectives who handle the area covered in the database.

McMullen called the database a “one-stop shop” that will make it easier to piece together cases involving multiple murders, such as the Grim Sleeper serial killer.

(Go read the rest.)


LA EVENT TO ADDRESS SUPPORT FOR CRIME SURVIVORS AND COMMUNITY SOLUTIONS

On November 21 (Thursday) LA City Councilman Joe Buscaino and Californians for Safety and Justice will co-host an event on public safety and how to help individual victims of crime, as well as communities plagued by high crime rates.

Here’s more on the event:

Leading voices from the survivor community, service providers and elected officials will share insights on:

em>How survivors and communities can recover and be safe;
How to reduce repeat victimization, assess gaps in services;
Better understanding crime and closure rates of serious offenses; and
Exploring how a city and/or county task force could improve the use of resources and policies for survivors of crime.

EVENT DETAILS:

Thursday, November 21, 2013, 5:00 – 8:00 p.m.
Ronald F. Deaton Civic Auditorium, 100 W. 1st Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012
Keynote Speaker: Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer

Speakers on the “What Survivors Need” panel:

Aqeela Sherrills, Survivor Outreach Strategist, Californians for Safety and Justice (moderator)
Adela Barajas, Life After Uncivil Ruthless Acts
Stinson Brown, Los Angeles Police Department, Gang Intervention Liaison
Vickey Lindsey, Project Cry No More
Eve Sheedy, Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office, Domestic Violence Policy

You can register here.


LA SUPES DELAY VOTE ON QUESTIONABLE ELECTRONIC MONITORING DEVICE CONTRACT

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors postponed a vote on a contract for an adult electronic monitoring program (EMP) through Sentinel Offender Services, a company recently fired by Orange County. (Read more on the issue in the post below this one.)

Posted in CDCR, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), FBI, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAPD, National issues, prison, Violence Prevention | No Comments »

Calif. Wellness 2013 Peace Prize Winners….& A 2008 Case of LA Jail Ultra-Violence Goes to Trial

October 11th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


CALIFORNIA WELLNESS PEACE PRIZE WINNERS TALK ABOUT TRAUMA AND VIOLENCE

Every year the California Wellness Foundation chooses three Peace Prize winners who are honored at a celebratory dinner that kicks off the foundation’s yearly Violence Prevention Conference.

The three outstanding community leaders who received the prizes Thursday night at the Westin Gaslamp Quarter hotel in San Diego each had affecting personal stories to tell, all of which seemed to touch the crowd.

The first to speak was Lali Moheno, the daughter of a migrant farm worker mother who, Moheno said, quite literally “died in the fields” of complications of diabetes because she was not properly diagnosed and treated for the disease. Now Moheno runs a health awareness program in Tulare County, where she connects women farmworkers and their families with health care and mental health services, reaching around 1000 women. All of her work is done on a shoestring budget consisting mostly of locally gathered donations.

(Did I mention that each Peace Prize comes with a $25,000 check?)

Moheno talked about how every time she got together a group women to talk about diabetes and other health issues, the conversation always turned quickly to domestic violence and serious instances of sexual harassment on the job. Thus Moheno realized that a big part of her work would be to find ways to help these women combat the damage and trauma that the violence in their homes brought to them and their kids.

Although the other two winners each worked in different arenas, the theme of the interweave of trauma and violence was something that each brought up with a sense of urgency.

For instance, another winner, Tasha Williamson, is an ardent community peace advocate who runs an organization that provides help and emotional support for families in San Diego County who have lost loved ones to gang or gun violence.

As she explained her work, Williamson talked about her upbringing in a particularly violence-ridden area of South LA, where the gang violence was so intense that her mother didn’t allow her to go outdoors to play “until I was 10 years old.”

The real danger for Williamson, however, would come, not from the street, but from inside her family when she was sexually abused as a child by a family member.

She said that the trauma of that violence visited on her when she was a kid made her a “very angry teenager” who took to the streets with a vengeance, getting in fights whenever possible.

Williamson said she sees that same kind of anger in many of the kids whose actions cause such grief in the communities where she works.

(Incidentally, Williamson drew the biggest gasp of the night when she said how much the $25,000 award would mean in her life, since she was a single mom with four kids who “lived off $13,000 last year.”)

The third honoree, George Galvis, served time in prison before co-founding an organization in the Bay area called Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice (CURYJ) which helps kids who’ve been involved in the criminal justice system.

Galvis too talked about how violence in the family can send a kid to the street.

“The cycles of violence are so profound,” he said, then explained he grew up in a home where life was routinely shattered by domestic violence. “Then I ended up perpetuating the violence on the street against boys who looked just like me,” he said, “all because of my anger at my father.”

More can be learned about the Peace Prize honorees here.

NOTE: Today’s conference will feature a keynote address by Michael Santos, who served 26 years as a federal prisoner, returning to society on August 12, 2013—60 days ago—bringing with him a remarkable story and a deeply felt sense of personal mission.

More on Santos soon.


REVISITING EXCESSIVE FORCE IN MEN’S CENTRAL JAIL

The Daily News’ Christina Villacorte, is attending a civil trial having to do with a 2008 incident in Men’s Central Jail where multiple inmates were badly injured and the jail supervisor at the time, then-Lieutenent Dan Cruz, appears to celebrate the deputies’ agression.

Here are some clips. But be sure to read the whole hair-raising account of the Villacorte’s day in court.

Videos of inmates screaming in pain while being hit multiple times with a Taser. A sheriff’s deputy taking the stand to deny he used excessive force even while testifying he punched and kicked inmates as many as 35 times after they were already sprawled face down on their cells.

Those were just some of the highlights — or lowlights — of a trial underway at the downtown federal courthouse, as Los Angeles County and its Sheriff’s Department stand accused of subjecting inmates to “dehumanizing abuse” while “under the color of law” during a cell extraction on Aug. 25, 2008.

Five inmates — Heriberto Rodriguez, Carlos Flores, Erick Nunez, Juan Carlos Sanchez and Juan Trinidad — are suing for unspecified damages, saying they suffered skull fractures, broken limbs and other serious injuries after being “unmercifully beaten” by deputies at Men’s Central Jail.

In their complaint, they said about 15 to 30 inmates barricaded themselves inside their cells to protest the beating of a fellow inmate.

Deputies allegedly responded by subjecting them to “brutal and gratuitous force that was unnecessary for any legitimate penal interest and amounted to punishment.”

The violence took place three weeks after gang members killed a jail deputy, Juan Escalante, outside his home in Cypress Park….

[BIG SNIP]

…Deputy Nicholas Graham admitted during cross-examination that he punched and kicked inmates 17 to 35 times after they had been hit repeatedly with Tasers, and forced down to the floor.

Graham said both in his post-incident report and during cross-examination that the inmates were not fighting back.

But when plaintiff’s attorney James Muller asked if he used excessive force, Graham responded, “That’s incorrect.”

He also said, “Force is a prerogative.

[BIG SNIP]

In one of the videos, an inmate was hit with a Taser repeatedly even after he was heard screaming, “I give up!”

At one point, deputies laughed because Graham cursed after accidentally hitting himself with a Taser.

Another video showed Lt. Dan Cruz, a supervisor at the jail, appearing to give deputies high-fives after they walked out of the cells, carrying inmates who had been rendered unconscious.

Posted in crime and punishment, Gangs, LA County Jail, LASD, Restorative Justice, School to Prison Pipeline, Violence Prevention | 5 Comments »

The Frightened Kid Who Writes Poetry & the Shooter….New CA Prison Hunger Strike Begins …& Crime As a Political Football

July 8th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

A few years ago, a veteran homicide detective from the Los Angeles Police Department talked to me about the aspect of his murder investigations that he found the most haunting.

“When I began this work,” he said, “I expected to find monsters. I’d think this time, this one, there’s definitely a monster behind this crime. But, most of the time I just found messed up people.” With kids, the detective said, the chasm between his expectations and the reality of the person he confronted when the arrest was made, was particularly stark. “Like with this kid,” he said, referring to the teenage defendant in a murder trial I was writing about at the time, a murder he had solved. “I look at him, and I think, ‘He’s just a scared kid. He could be one of my cousins, one of my nephews.’ And he killed somebody else’s kid.”

In her most recent column, the LA Times’ Sandy Banks writes about the confusing reality that the homicide cop talked about, and about a couple who had every reason to dismiss teenage killers as monsters, but who found that they could not.

Here’s a clip.

The child, shot to death a year ago, was a toddler in his father’s arms. The gang member who shot him was 15. He’d fired into a pack of strangers because someone had the wrong color on. He was sentenced to 90 years in prison in a courtroom heavy with outrage and grief.

The mother of the dead toddler sobbed through her tribute: “To us, he was perfect,” she said.

The killer, Donald Ray Dokins, now 16, slumped and stared at the floor.

The judge pronounced Dokins a hateful coward, “incapable of showing remorse.” But Dokins’ weeping family and friends offered a gentler rendition of the baby-faced, bespectacled teen. “He’s little in size and little inside,” Dokins’ teacher told the court.

A frightened kid who writes poetry and gets good grades in school. A gangbanger looking for someone to kill, pedaling a bike and packing a gun.

Can two such different boys reside in one teenager’s body? Is it possible to punish one of those versions and rehabilitate the other?

No doubt it would be less confusing if we could dismiss all teenage killers as monsters-–people so totally damaged that they cannot be redeemed.

The reality, however, is far more complicated, far more human.

And far more heartbreaking.


PREPARING FOR THE CALIFORNIA PRISON HUNGER STRIKE

Two years ago this summer, in July and in Sept 2011, nearly 7000 of California inmates, spread over 9 different prisons, refused food in a hunger strike intended to protest the way that solitary confinement is being used in the state’s lockups.

Today, Monday, July 8, a new strike is set to begin.

In March, the CDCR issued a document containing revised policies regarding solitary confinement. Yet the strike leaders housed in Pelican Bay prison’s Special Housing Unit or SHU, along with human rights advocates like Amnesty International, which supports the strike, say that the revisions are not all that they claim to be, and that the CDCR officials have failed to make many of the most basic changes that the strikers called for two years ago.

Hence the new strike.

The strike’s organizers have presented 5 core demands (which you can find here)..

Some of the kinds of things they want are very simple, like, “Allow wall calendars,” and “allow watch caps,” and “allow SHU inmates adequate sunlight.” The more complex sticking points have to do with who is designated for the SHU and why, and how an inmate can earn his way out.

Reporter Michael Montgomery, who has become expert on the matter. So we are glad to note that, together with California Watch and the Center for Investigative Reporting, Montgomery and colleagues are running a week-long series on issues surrounding the strike. (We will, of course, link to the segments as they are posted.)

Amnesty International issued a statement on July 5 saying that, since the strike two years ago, conditions have not improved.

According to the California State authorities’ own figures, as of 2011 more than 500 prisoners have spent more than ten years in the isolation units at Pelican Bay State Prison and 78 have been in the SHU for 20 years or more.


INVISIBLE MEN: A BAN AGAINST PHOTOS IN SOLITARY IS LIFTED, JUST SLIGHTLY, WITH EMOTIONAL RESULTS

Reporter Michael Montgomery’s first story in this week’s hunger strike series, is an affecting tale about the long-time ban against personal photographs for those in solitary confinement, which has left many families in the dark as to what their locked up father/son/brother/husband looks like after years in the Pelican Bay SHU.

Some quite literarly have never seen an image or heard the voice of a loved one for more than 20 years—all because of a long-unquestioned policy that some prison officials are now starting to see is neither humane nor necessary.

Montgomery tells about reactions as the ban cracks open just a little bit in the course of reviewing the hunger strike demands.

Here’s a clip:

…For years, prison staff defended the ban, contending that personal photographs were circulated by prison gang leaders as calling cards, both to advise other members that they’re still in charge and to pass on orders.

But after taking a closer look at the ban during a 2011 inmate hunger strike, top Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation officials determined it was not justified. Scott Kernan, who retired as undersecretary of corrections in 2011, said the stories of calling cards were isolated examples and the photo ban and other restrictions targeted inmates who were not breaking any rules.

“I think we were wrong, and I think (that) to this day,” he said. “How right is it to have an offender who is behaving … (and) to not be able to take a photo to send to his loved ones for 20 years?”

Kernan directed prison staff to ease the restrictions for inmates who were free of any disciplinary violations.

[SNIP]

For some families, seeing an image of their incarcerated relative for the first time in years has sparked renewed hope and revived dormant family connections. For others, the photographs are a shocking reminder of the length of time some inmates have been held in isolation.

Read the rest here.


SOME CONSERVATIVE POLITICIANS WANT TO USE CRIME AS AN ELECTIONS WEDGE ISSUE, WHILE OTHERS PLAY THE LONG GAME BY PUSHING FOR NEEDED REFORM

There appears to be a new schism forming among conservative politicians on the crime and punishment issue.

On one side, there is the Texas-based conservative group called Right on Crime, that, for the past few years, has been a leader in the national movement to impose common sense on what, for 30-years, was an incarceration-mad rush to apply punishment-heavy solutions to every public safety problem.

Enter Right on Crime, which saw that locking so many people up costs a LOT of money, and inevitably produces the worst kind of big, sprawling, top-heavy government structure that conservatives had long said they wanted to avoid.

With this thought in mind, the Right on Crime people were crucial in helping pass California’s Prop. 36, last year, which reformed the state’s Three Strikes law.

Now they are helping to push through some fundamental reform in the state of Oregon.

But despite Right on Crime’s successes, according to the AP, state politicians in both Colorado and California are reportedly contemplating using the law-and-order crime hysteria that worked so well in past decades to try to win some future elections.

Here’s a clip from the AP’s story by Nicholas Riccari

…Republicans say they have no shortage of issues to run on in Colorado. But one, they say, stands out for its potency.

“Crime, justice, law and order, public safety resonate in a more personal way than a chart and graph of GDP growth,” said Ryan Call, chairman of the Colorado Republican Party.

In California, which has conducted the most ambitious criminal justice overhaul in the nation, Republicans are targeting Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative Democrats over the state’s policy that sends lower-level offenders to local jails rather than state prisons. The law went into full effect in late 2011, but already there have been several highly publicized cases of convicts released from prison committing crimes like rape and murder. The most prominent Republican to emerge as a possible challenger to Brown, former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, in May launched a ballot campaign to reverse the prison overhaul.

Frank Zimring, a University of California-Berkeley law professor who has written widely on crime and politics, noted that crime rates appear to have leveled out after a two-decade decline. He called the recent GOP efforts “the test run as to whether there could be a resurgence in hard-right, punitive” crime politics.

We already see signs of a trial balloon with such politics in California where candidates and would-be candidates try to blame every high profile crime on AB109.

Interestingly, however, the Right on Crime movement—which refreshingly tends to favor facts over demagoguery—shows signs of working toward more and better reform in California, not dismantling what has been accomplished in the hope of grabbing short-term political gain.

Posted in CDCR, Gangs, juvenile justice, prison, prison policy, solitary, Violence Prevention | No Comments »

Supremes & the Voting Rights Act…Kids Witnessing Violence…And More

February 27th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



THE SUPREME COURT COULD STRIKE DOWN PART OF VOTING RIGHTS ACT

The U.S. Supreme court will hear arguments Wednesday about a particular part of the voting rights act that conservatives see as intrusive to state’s rights and liberals see a crucial to prevent state laws aimed at making it harder for minorities to vote.

Lawrence Hurley at Reuters explains the central issues that will be heard on Wednesday. Here’s a clip:

The Supreme Court on Wednesday will consider whether to strike down a key provision of a federal law designed to protect minority voters.

During the one-hour oral argument, the nine justices will hear the claim made by officials from Shelby County, Alabama, that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is no longer needed.

The key issue is whether Congress has the authority under the 15th Amendment, which gave African Americans the right to vote, to require some states, mainly in the South, to show that any proposed election-law change would not discriminate against minority voters.

Conservative activists and local officials in some jurisdictions covered by the provision have long complained about it, saying that it is an unacceptable infringement on state sovereignty.

Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow with the conservative Heritage Foundation who formerly worked in the Justice Department’s civil rights division, said that the “terrible history” that warranted Section 5′s intrusion on state authority was over.

Adam Liptak at the NY Times has a Q & A that lays out the basic facts of the Voting Rights Act, its history, its importance, and the heart of Wednesday’s question.


ALEX KOTLOWITZ TALKS ABOUT THE PRICE OF PUBLIC VIOLENCE

Author/journalist Alex Kotlowitz has written a must-read op ed for Sunday’s NY Times that I didn’t want you to miss.

Kotlowitz wrote the award-winning classic, There are No Children Here, and was one of the reporters on This American Life’s 2-part series on the affect of violence on the students of Harper High School in Chicago.

The Op Ed is about the effects that witnessing violence has on anybody, and in particular kids who live in high violence areas.

As he makes his point, Kotlowitz uses facts and figures from his home city of Chicago, where violent crime is way up right now. But the same principals he talks about certainly hold true in Los Angeles. Ditto Oakland, and so on.

Anyway, here’s a clip from Kotlowitz’s essay.

EVERY year, the Chicago Police Department issues a report with the macabre title “Chicago Murder Analysis.” It’s a short but eye-opening document. Do the calculations and you realize that in the past 15 years, 8,083 people have been killed, most of them in a concentrated part of the city. There’s one particularly startling revelation that gets little notice: in 2011, more than four-fifths of all murders happened in a public place, a park, an alleyway, on the street, in a restaurant or at a gas station.

When Hadiya Pendleton, the 15-year-old public school student and band majorette who just a week earlier had performed at President Obama’s inauguration, was killed on Jan. 29, she was standing under an awning in a park with a dozen friends. They all saw or heard it when she was shot in the back. One of them, in fact, was wounded by the gunfire. Which brings me to what’s not in the “Chicago Murder Analysis”: Over the past 15 years, according to the University of Chicago Crime Lab, an estimated 36,000 people were shot and wounded. It’s a staggering number.

We report on the killers and the killed, but we ignore those who have been wounded or who have witnessed the shootings. What is the effect on individuals — especially kids — who have been privy to the violence in our cities’ streets?

I ask this somewhat rhetorically because in many ways we know the answer. We’ve seen what exposure to the brutality of war does to combat veterans. It can lead to outbursts of rage, an inability to sleep, flashbacks, a profound sense of being alone, a growing distrust of everyone around you, a heightened state of vigilance, a debilitating sense of guilt. In an interview I heard recently on the radio, the novelist and Vietnam veteran Tim O’Brien talked about how the atrocities and nastiness of battle get in your bones. The same can be said for kids growing up in Hadiya’s neighborhood.

The ugliness and inexplicability of the violence in our cities comes to define you and everyone around you. With just one act of violence, the ground shifts beneath you, your knees buckle and all you can do is try the best you can to maintain your balance. But it’s hard.

There’s lots more, and I recommend reading the whole thing. But here’s one more clip from the end of Kotlow essay:

In the wake of Hadiya Pendleton’s shooting, we’ve talked about stiffer gun control laws, about better policing, about providing mentoring and after-school programs, all of which are essential. But missing from this conversation is any acknowledgment that the violence eats away at one’s soul — whether you’re a direct victim, a witness or, like Anita Stewart, simply a friend of the deceased. Most suffer silently. By themselves. Somewhere along the way, we need to focus on those left behind in our cities whose very character and sense of future have been altered by what they’ve experienced on the streets.


MALIBU/LOST HILLS SHERIFF’S STATION TAKES PART IN “ACTIVE SCHOOL SHOOTER TRAINING

Early this past Saturday, around 30 Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department deputies and supervisors from Malibu/Lost Hills Station engaged in an “active school shooter” training on site at Topanga Elementary School in Topanga Canyon.

The LASD teams were joined by personnel from other agencies like the Malibu Search and Rescue Team, writes David Katz for the Malibu Times.

The training was part of the Sheriff’s Department’s ongoing efforts to prepare and train for events involving active shooter incidents at schools or other locations.

More than 30 officers and deputies cycled through several training scenarios involving armed shooting suspects with multiple adult and child victims.

Department sources say such exercises with “training scenarios’ are very valuable in fostering cooperation and communication between agencies likely to be called out, as well as giving officers practice in these high intensity emergencies and their specialized challenges.

(Full disclosure: Topanga Elementary where my son went to elementary school. I’m only sorry I wasn’t there on Saturday morning to observe.)


Photo of LBJ signing the 1965 Voting Rights Act, by Yoichi Okamoto, courtesy of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library

Posted in campus violence, PTSD, race, race and class, racial justice, Violence Prevention | No Comments »

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