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Violence Prevention


Violence Prevention Efforts in Los Angeles, a Problematic Study on Racial Bias in Policing, and LAPD Body-Cam Policies

July 19th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

AQUIL BASHEER’S WORK TO REDUCE GANG VIOLENCE IN LA AND ACROSS THE NATION, DURING A TIME OF HIGH TENSION BETWEEN THE POLICE AND BLACK COMMUNITIES

Aquil Basheer is a nationally known pioneer in the field of violence prevention, whose techniques have been implemented in cities worldwide.

For 40 years, Aquil Basheer, a former member of the Black Panther Party, and the son of Los Angeles’ first African American firefighter, has been working to reduce violence in LA. Now, Basheer travels around the globe training firefighters, social workers, students and former gang-members on how to become gang interventionists and bring peace into the turbulent neighborhoods in which they live and work.

Before Basheer launched his own training company, he was the executive director of Pete Carroll’s A Better LA.

Basheer’s training program teaches participants how to mediate ceasefires, help kids avoid slipping into gang life, and control neighborhood rumors, among other hands-on skills.

Basheer has co-authored a book called, Peace in the Hood, and two documentaries have been made about his work—License to Operate, and, more recently, The Black Jacket (preview above). He also one the 2010 California Wellness Foundation’s Peace Prize.

Here’s a clip from LA Magazine’s Jessica Ogilvie’s profile on Basheer:

Mike Wallen, Omelet’s chief content officer and the producer of what would become the film License to Operate, learned about Basheer’s hesitation early on. “When we first approached these men and women,” Wallen says, “they expressed their concerns. They didn’t want to be exploited; they didn’t want their story to be sensationalized.”

Wallen took the concerns to heart, but his plan to steer clear of gratuitous imagery wasn’t received well from initial audiences. “We got a lot of feedback from people: ‘Where’s the shooting? Where’s the yellow tape?’,” he says. “But it’s so much less about the violence and so much more about community restoration and creating hope and opportunities for kids. It’s a story of redemption. They feel they have to try and create the opportunities for the next generation because it wasn’t there for them.”

The film puts Basheer, who calls his relationship with the police a “respectful coexistence,” in the spotlight at a time of peak conflict, when tension between police and black communities is at a combustible high. “When you tell the police department, ‘We are going to give you military rights, military equipment, military firepower, equip you to be a force that’s going to war,’ well, guess what? There has to be an adversary in that scenario,” he says. “The community has become that adversary, and that is felt.”


RAPPER THE GAME AND SNOOP DOGG INVITED GANG MEMBERS AND LEADERS TO AN ANTI-VIOLENCE SUMMIT

Dozens of LA-area gang members attended a meeting convened by rappers Snoop Dogg and the Game on Sunday in South LA, where a number of speakers (including gang intervention leader and Homies Unidos founder Alex Sanchez) to discuss peace—between cops and communities of color, as well as between gangs—in the wake of a number of high-profile shootings in recent weeks.

This isn’t the first time Snoop Dogg has worked to end violence between LA’s gangs, and the Game recently raised more than $70,000 with his son for Tommy Norman, an unsung hero of a cop—a police officer in Little Rock, Arkansas who takes kindness and community policing to a new level. The money will go toward Norman’s efforts to contribute to the community he serves (which is predominantly a community of color), funding things like toys, snacks, and drinks for the kids he meets.

The Game said he felt compelled to hold the summit following the recent killing of his foster brother. The Game explained that he wants his three children to live in a safer world.

Snoop and the Game headed a peaceful march to LAPD headquarters earlier in July, and joined LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and LA Mayor Eric Garcetti for a press conference (see above video).


RADLEY BALKO: PROBLEMATIC DATA FROM HIGHLY DISCUSSED POLICE RACIAL BIAS STUDY

The front page of last Tuesday’s New York Times included a much-talked about story about a study that surprisingly found no racial bias involved in police shootings. The study, authored by Harvard economics professor Roland G. Fryer, Jr. looked at police reports of more than 1,300 shootings in big city police departments, including Houston, Los Angeles, Dallas, and Orlando, and found that officers were more likely to use non-lethal force on black suspects than white suspects. But when Fryer and his team looked at their data on the actual shootings, they found no racial bias. In Houston, the city focused on the most, Fryer found that officers were around 20% less likely to shoot a black suspect than a white suspect in situations where lethal force might have been justified.

But how accurate are Fryer’s startling conclusions?

Several criticisms of the study have surfaced, including from Vox’s Dara Lind, and MTV News’ Ezekiel Kweku, highlighting red flags in Fryer’s research.

Washington Post’s Radley Balko explains the biggest problem with the study: it’s based entirely on police reports, which are nearly always written by the officers involved in the incidents, and can be uneven, incomplete pictures of incidents. Balko explains that if you were putting together statistics on medical errors, written statements from the accused medical professionals wouldn’t be the only data source you’d tap into. Here’s a clip:

We want to reform policing. But we want those reforms to be informed, based on good data. The problem is that nearly all the data we have on incidents involving police officers using lethal force comes from reports written by police officers, and nearly all of those reports were written by the officers who were actually involved in those incidents.

The current law on when police officers may use lethal force allows for what critics (like me) would say is far too much discretion. It doesn’t account for police officers who needlessly escalate a situation and then have no choice but to use lethal force due to the circumstances they created. It doesn’t account for mistakes made by police officers themselves that might have caused an officer to reasonably believe a suspect posed an imminent threat. It doesn’t account for police officers giving contradictory commands, then shooting someone for misinterpreting them.

For the purpose of the discussion, let’s break shootings and killings by police into three categories: incidents that were illegal and unnecessary, incidents that were legal and necessary, and incidents that were legal but unnecessary. If you’re asking whether current laws and policies allow for too many police shootings, looking at how many shootings are justified under current law and policy is just question begging. It’s that last category — legal but unnecessary — that we want to explore. Unfortunately, it’s also a category that is plagued by subjectivity and the simple fact noted above: Most of the data we have comes from police reports themselves.

If we were to compile statistics on, say, medical mistakes in an effort to make policies that would improve the state of medicine, we wouldn’t get all of our data from written statements by the accused doctors or hospitals. If we wanted to compile data on conflicts of interest in politics, we wouldn’t rely on politicians to self-report and adjudicate when their vote may have been influenced by a campaign donation. But this is essentially what we do with shootings by police officers.

The argument here is not that there’s something uniquely untrustworthy about cops. The argument is that almost every police officer who has just shot and killed someone will defend his or her decision to kill. It’s human nature.


WHAT WILL THE LAPD BODY-CAM POLICIES LOOK LIKE?

As the LAPD and other major law enforcement agencies are rolling out officer-worn cameras, the question of who has the right to see all this video (and when, and under what circumstances) has quickly become the subject of debate between police, civil rights advocates, and the public.

The LAPD has maintained that videos would not be released unless required by a court, arguing the importance of officer and victim privacy and investigation integrity. There are critics of this stance, including the president of the police commission, who believes the policy should be reconsidered.

Department officials say they have been keeping an eye on San Diego’s progress with a policy of releasing portions of officer-involved shooting videos after once the DA chooses not to charge the cops involved. But Craig Lally, head of the LAPD officers’ union, says releasing any video would be a mistake.

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

Supporters of broader access to police video welcomed a review of the LAPD’s policy. An attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union called it “long overdue.” But, he added, officials would need to craft specific guidelines preventing the LAPD from sharing only footage that helped officers.

“They can’t just leave it to their discretion to release video if it exonerates officers and withhold it if it’s incriminating,” said Peter Bibring, a senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Southern California.

But the president of the union that represents rank-and-file LAPD officers sharply rejected the idea of releasing any of the recordings. Craig Lally said he feared the decision to release certain footage would be influenced by public or political pressure, jeopardizing evidence that could be used in a trial.

“Once you open that Pandora’s box, who’s going to decide what’s going to be released?” Lally said. “Is it going to be the chief of police? Is it going to be the mayor? What’s the criteria going to be?

Posted in Violence Prevention | No Comments »

49 Shot Dead at Orlando Nightclub in Deadliest Mass Shooting in U.S. History

June 12th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

The heartbreak and devastation continues to grow as more details about the victims in Orlando filter out.

In addition to our heartbreak and thoughts for the families and friends of those killed in the horrific act of bigotry, hatred and violence at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, Saturday night, we at WitnessLA also hope that news reporting on this tragedy is sober minded, fact-based, and resists the desire to twist the terrible sorrow of others for political purposes.

President Obama has called the attack at the popular LGBT nightclub that killed fifty people, and injured another 53, “an act of terror and an act of hate.”

The gunman, who is also dead, has been identified as Omar Siddiqui Mateen, a U.S. citizen. He reportedly called 911 prior to his shooting rampage, and pledged allegiance to ISIS.

ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, although there was no early evidence that they had contact with the gunman. It seems instead ISUS opportunistically claimed credit after the fact.

At the same time, Mateen’s father, and his ex-wife, have each told reporters that Mateen had often made anti-gay remarks in the past.

In addition, the former wife of the gunman described him as violent, abusive and unstable.

Meanwhile, here in Los Angeles a man was arrested for weapons and explosives and told authorities he was planning to meet a friend at Sunday’s Gay Pride parade. It was reportedly later that the man allegedly planned to cause “harm” to those in the parade.

Yet, near the end of Sunday, this report was found to be inaccurate. The man with the guns and explosives intended to go to the parade but not cause “harm.” Why he was carrying weapons and explosives was not clear. The LA Times has been following the story.


Posted in Violence Prevention | 5 Comments »

Teen Pregnancy Prevention, Million$ for Violence Prevention in Oakland, “Black Lives Matter” Is Top 2015 Story…and More

December 10th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

THE IMPORTANCE OF INCLUDING TEEN PREGNANCY PREVENTION STRATEGIES IN THE TOOLBOX FOR PREVENTING ABUSE AND NEGLECT

Teen pregnancy prevention services are missing from a recently released draft list of recommendations from a national commission created to develop strategies for reducing abuse and neglect-related deaths of children, according to Marie Cohen, a former social worker and policy researcher.

Cohen says the Commission for the Elimination of Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities should recommend Congress gather data on how many of these fatalities involve kids born to teen parents, or born to parents who started having children when they were teenagers. Cohen also calls on the commission to recommend all teens—especially kids involved in the child welfare and juvenile justice system and at high risk for pregnancy—have full access to all contraception options, as well as counseling and education.

Girls in foster care in Los Angeles are 2.5 times more likely to be pregnant by age 19 than girls not involved in the child welfare system, according to statistics gathered by Alliance for Children’s Rights.

And in LA County, kids with teen mothers involved with the child welfare system experienced a rate of abuse and neglect, themselves, two to three times higher than kids born to teen moms with no DCFS-involvement, according to a 2013 report funded by the Hilton Foundation.

Second or subsequent infants born to mothers younger than 17 years old, were 11 times more likely to be murdered than firstborns from mothers who were over the age of 25, according to a national study on infant deaths between 1983-1991.

Here’s a clip from Cohen’s op-ed for the Chronicle of Social Change:

As National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy co-founder Sarah Brown recently pointed out, groups that focus on child and family well-being rarely propose interventions that begin before conception of a child. CECANF could begin to rectify this omission by including teen pregnancy prevention in its recommendations for reducing child abuse and neglect fatalities.

In her testimony before CECANF, Angela Diaz, director of New York’s Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center, discussed the connection between teenage parenthood and child maltreatment fatalities. In serving for many years on a child fatality review panel, she noticed that in many of these cases, the mother began childbearing in adolescence, and had more closely spaced children thereafter.

Dr. Diaz cited a national study of deaths of infants born between 1983 and 1991, which showed that “childbearing at an early age was strongly associated with infant homicide, particularly if the mother had given birth previously.”

A second or subsequent infant born to a mother younger than 17 years old was 11 times more likely to be a homicide victim than the first child of a mother 25 or older. A second or subsequent infant born to a mother age 17 to 19 was over nine times more likely to be a homicide victim.

[SNIP]

Even without knowing the proportion of child maltreatment deaths occurring to children of teen mothers, we already know that teen motherhood is a risk factor for child abuse and neglect. CECANF should recommend increased emphasis on teen pregnancy prevention, especially for young women in high poverty areas and those in foster care.

The Commission should recommend that all teens, especially those at higher risk of pregnancy, have access to contraceptive methods and education. Clinics in low income areas and those serving youth in foster care and juvenile justice should provide the full array of contraceptive options including the long-lasting methods that are most effective, along with education and counseling.

Special attention should be devoted to preventing a second birth to a teenage mother by ensuring that she is provided with a contraceptive method at the time of the first birth. The federal Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program, which has been under attack in Congress, should be fully funded or expanded.


A UNIQUE VOTER-APPROVED TAX TO BOOST PUBLIC SAFETY IN OAKLAND MEANS MILLIONS IN FUNDING FOR INNOVATIVE RESTORATIVE JUSTICE AND VIOLENCE PREVENTION EFFORTS

Two dozen Oakland non-profits and public organizations will split $6.37 million in funding to reduce violence at the community level, thanks to Oakland’s Measure Z, a parcel tax and parking surcharge meant to boost public safety efforts.

Among the non-profits and organizations the city’s Human Services Department chose to fund were Youth Alive!, which connects with hospitalized kids and teens who have been shot or stabbed, or who have just been released from lock-up, to prevent retaliation and reoffending.

Youth Alive! was awarded $1 million, which was the largest grant, for a collaborative effort with Oakland California Youth Outreach to provide conflict mediation in neighborhoods prone to violence.

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Rachel Swan has the story. Here’s a clip:

Staff from the city’s Human Services Department — which has an arm called Oakland Unite that manages public safety funds — recommended awarding 30 grants in all, allocating the money to 24 nonprofit and public agencies, out of 44 that applied. The City Council approved those awards Tuesday.

Clients from several of the organizations that received funding gave emotional speeches at the council meeting, highlighting the urgency of Measure Z.

“I just got out of prison two weeks ago,” said Tommy Robinson, who had come to advocate for Oakland California Youth Outreach.

Robinson said he’d spent more than a decade behind bars, and the last six years in solitary confinement.

“It was tough going from being isolated to being around people again,” Robinson said, adding that the group had helped him put together a resume and readjust to the outside world.

“Welcome home,” said council President Lynette McElhaney, her voice quavering.


THE CRIME REPORT SURVEY: READERS’ TOP TEN STORIES OF 2015

According to a survey conducted by the Crime Report, the “Black Lives Matter” movement was the most significant criminal justice-related news story of 2015. Among the other topics and developments that made the top 10 list were viral cell phone and body cam videos of police confrontations, sentencing reform, and a focus on jails.

Here’s how it opens (head over to the Crime Report to read the full list):

Judging by news reports, Americans were experiencing more fear and insecurity in the closing months of 2015 than at any time since the 9/11 attacks. Last week’s massacre in San Bernardino and the earlier shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs reignited long-festering debates on gun control and domestic terrorism.

Nevertheless, in our fifth annual survey of the most significant criminal justice news stories and developments, TCR readers looked beyond those tragedies to focus on the injustices experienced daily by our most marginalized citizens at the hands of the U.S. justice system—and the network of civic activist groups that has emerged in response.

In choosing the growing political profile of Black Lives Matter and related organizations as the major development of 2015, readers also appeared to signal their faith and optimism in the ability of American civil society to drive change.

“(Black Lives Matter) brought national attention to issues of police brutality in the U.S.,” said one TCR reader who requested anonymity. “And they have continued to fight to keep this subject in the spotlight.”

Although the San Bernardino event occurred after we posted our nominations last week, that didn’t mean the incidents of mass killings which have plagued America during a violent year—such as the June 17 massacre of nine people in an African-American church in Charleston, SC and the shooting spree in Colorado Springs that left four dead (including the shooter) and nine injured on November 27—were ignored.

The troubling phenomenon of domestic terrorism—targeted attacks that have been tied at least in part to ideological hatreds or racial bias—came in at fifth place on TCR’s “Top Ten” List.

Nevertheless, by an overwhelming consensus, the most important developments were those that represented seedbeds for change.

And we think that’s significant. TCR readers, of course, are among the country’s most informed audience when it comes to criminal justice. Many of you are deeply involved in the nuts and bolts of the system, as academics, practitioners, advocates and journalists (just to name a few categories).


JUDGE OVERTURNS DEATH SENTENCE, SAYS PROSECUTOR CAN’T TELL DELIBERATING JURY THAT THE BIBLE SAYS MURDERERS MUST BE PUT TO DEATH

A US District Judge has overturned the death sentence of Rudolph Roybal, finding “egregious misconduct” from the prosecutor, who told the jury during the penalty phase of Roybal’s trial that the Bible calls for murderers to be put to death.

While there is little doubt that Roybal did murder a 65-year-old Oceanside woman after she and her husband fired him for doing yard work too slowly, Judge Jeffrey Miller said the prosecutor’s invalid argument encouraged a conflicted jury to choose a death sentence “because it was God’s will, and not that the imposition of the death penalty complied with California and federal law.”

The San Diego Union Tribune’s Kristina Davis has the story. Here are some clips:

“The prosecutor’s improper argument presented an intolerable danger that the jury minimized its role as fact finder and encouraged jurors to vote for death because it was God’s will, and not that the imposition of the death penalty complied with California and federal law,” Miller wrote in a 226-page opinion granting Roybal’s appeal. The opinion was filed last week.

The judge also chastised Roybal’s defense attorneys, ruling they provided ineffective counsel by not objecting to the prosecutor’s inappropriate closing remarks.

“The failure of defense counsel to object to such egregious misconduct and secure an admonition deprived defendant of the fundamental fairness of a death penalty proceeding free from foul prosecutorial blows,” Miller said.

[SNIP]

Alex Simpson, a professor at California Western School of Law, said the issue is less about the Bible than the prosecutor asking the jury to make a decision based on something other than the evidence presented in the case.

“It’s an appeal to an authority or other evidence that shouldn’t be considered by the jury,” Simpson said in an interview. “In reality, the only thing a jury should do is consider what are the facts and how do the facts inform my decision to vote one way or the other.”

Posted in Death Penalty, Foster Care, juvenile justice, Violence Prevention | No Comments »

Harm-Focused Policing, LAPD Training and Retraining, the Mayor of New Orleans, and Tom Carey’s Guilty Plea

August 20th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

WEIGHING THE HARMFUL EFFECTS OF DIFFERENT CRIMES ON COMMUNITIES TO BETTER FOCUS POLICE ENERGY AND RESOURCES

In a paper published on Friday in the journal Ideas in American Policing, Temple University criminal justice professor Jerry Ratcliffe outlines the difference between a “crime and disorder” focused policing strategy and another method he calls “harm-focused policing,” which redirects police resources and strategies toward the detrimental effects of crime on a community

Targeting issues that affect poor minority communities, like substance abuse, emotional health, and gang recruitment would go beyond the symptoms to get at the “why” of the crimes.

Switching the focus would more accurately represent communities’ concerns, says Jerry Ratcliffe, a criminal justice professor at Temple University and the paper’s author, and would help to change the relationship between cops and poor minority communities: “Where police can often see only crime and disorder, community experiences are more nuanced and diverse.”

While it can be difficult to quantify harm, the paper says there are ways to identify places and people that are especially harmful to communities.

Here’s a clip from the paper:

The range of community anxieties is often heartbreaking, ranging from the day-to-day incivilities that sap community cohesion, to concerns about root causes of crime, drugs, speeding traffic, environmental conditions, community dissolution and the harms associated with gang recruitment of young children. It is not uncommon to hear concerns about the lack of police attention to a neighborhood in the same meeting as complaints about the detrimental impacts of excessive and unfocused police attention on the wrong people. While there are correlations between increased police activity and lower neighborhood violence (see for example Koper & Mayo-Wilson, 2006; Ratcliffe, Taniguchi, Groff, & Wood, 2011), the negative consequences of repeated police contacts are now being more widely understood.

The paper also says the controversial practice of “stop, question, and frisk” (or “stop and frisk”) should be included in the harm index calculations as something that can hurt police-community relations:

The crime reduction benefits of increased pedestrian investigations (sometimes referred to in general as ‘stop, question and frisk’ [SQF]) remain a matter of some dispute (Rosenfeld & Fornango, 2014), and the tactic itself remains highly controversial with the public concerned about both the disproportionate impact on minority communities and potential reduction in police legitimacy. Even Braga and Weisburd, two of the strongest advocates of hot spots policing, accept that ‘It seems likely that overly aggressive and indiscriminate police crackdowns would produce some undesirable effects’ (2010: 188).

Given the potential for harm stemming from unrestrained used of SQF, inclusion of a weighting for each pedestrian or vehicle investigative stop has a number of benefits. First, it acts as a constraint against unfocused and unrestricted use of SQF by over-eager police commanders desperate to reduce crime in a location. The right weighting3 would still sanction use of the tactic, but ideally encourage a focused and targeted application because each stop would count against the area’s harm index. In this way a calculation of cost-benefit ratio would determine if the anticipated crime and harm reduction benefits sufficiently offset any potential loss of police legitimacy and community support. Second, this would send a signal that the police are cognizant of the potential for pedestrian and vehicle investigative stops to impact police-community relations and that they are aware that some police tactics come with an associated cost. Third, having a price associated with investigative stops may generate improved data collection of stops, which will have a corollary benefit, allowing departments to better assess their vulnerability to accusations of racial profiling.


LAPD DEPUTY CHIEF WILLIAM MURPHY ON THE IMPORTANCE OF TRAINING, TRAINING, AND MORE TRAINING FOR OFFICERS

In an interview with the LA Times’ Patt Morrison, Deputy Chief William Murphy, who is the head of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Police Sciences and Training Bureau, talked about how much LAPD training has evolved from a decade ago, how the Sandra Bland tragedy might have turned out differently, and how LA officers are taught to conduct traffic stops and mental health crisis calls.

Here’s a clip (but do yourself a favor and read the whole thing):

What is the LAPD training for a traffic stop?

In the academy, before we teach anything, we ask, “Have you ever been stopped by the police?” Everybody’s hands go up. [They say] the officer was kind of rude. We say: “Remember that before we teach you how to do a traffic stop. What if it was your mother? Your sister? Is that how you’d want someone to treat them?”

In California, we teach an eight-step traffic stop. The first four are critical: The initial thing is the greeting — a smile, say, “Good morning, I’m Officer Bill Murphy of the LAPD.” When people ask for business cards, you give it to them — that’s our policy. When you do this [he points to his nameplate] and say, “This is me,” you’re just getting them mad.

Then you explain the reason for the stop. In some of these traffic stops that go south, they’ve left out some of these components. The goal of a traffic stop is to educate, not irritate. You pull somebody over for running a stop sign to have a conversation to change their behavior.

Watch the tapes and you notice officers — not from California — don’t ask [the driver], “Why would you do that?” I’ve had people tell me, “My wife’s at the hospital delivering my first baby” or “I just got fired today and my head’s not in the game.” You give them an opportunity to explain before you make a decision whether or not to write a ticket.

Then [as the last step], you say have a good day; you always end on a positive note.

The Sandra Bland traffic arrest apparently escalated when an officer got testy because she wouldn’t put out her cigarette; it ended with Bland allegedly hanging herself in a jail cell.

You have to think, is [the driver] a threat to you, or are you just irritated because they happen to be having a cigarette? If you think they’re really a threat, that’s a different situation. I’ve gotten pulled over, and as a police officer, my heart still races. [Bland was] probably just nervous, smoking her cigarette.

We teach don’t be the “contempt of cop” cop. Usually, you get contempt of cop when your emotions take over, when the goal becomes something other than educating, like, “You’re not respecting my authority.”

We’re lucky: About 98% of our police vehicles are two-person. If the [first officer] for whatever reason isn’t making that connection and it’s getting heated, we tell them to switch roles right away. Say, “Hey, partner, let me take this over,” as opposed to getting into a confrontation.

I was asked about the video of the Cincinnati incident [a campus police officer shot an unarmed man during a traffic stop; the officer has been indicted for murder]. You need to control your emotions and stress level so you don’t overreact. When you overreact, you can see a threat that’s really not there.


NEW ORLEANS’ MAYOR IS ON A CAMPAIGN AGAINST VIOLENCE IN POOR BLACK COMMUNITIES

The Altantic’s Jeffery Goldberg has a great longread about New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu who is on a crusade to cut down on the level of homicides in his city. Landrieu’s particular focus is on the “epidemic of young African American men killing young African American men.”

One of Mayor Landrieu’s innovative violence diversion programs, NOLA for Life, initiates “call-ins” where around 20 men between the ages of 16-24 who are likely to shoot or be shot, and who have had contact with the justice system, are called into court without explanation.

Landrieu addresses the gathered boys and young men, who are either doing a short stint in jail or are on probation, and introduces two groups of people who have come to speak with them and help them—on one side, representatives from every local and federal law enforcement agency, on the other, social workers and counselors ready to help the attendees and connect them with services and resources.

Landrieu tells the young men gathered in front of him, that if they leave the courthouse and make wrong choices they will have further contact with the law enforcement agencies in attendance, but if they choose correctly, Landrieu says, “I’ll make a commitment to you that you’re going to go to the front of the line: if you need a job, if you need mental-health, substance-abuse counseling, if you say you need something, the folks on this side of the room will listen to you, talk to you, help you.”

NOLA for Life also features mental health services, substance abuse treatment, and job training. And teams of counselors, including former gang members, are dispatched to ERs to convince family members of shooting victims not to seek revenge.

“i want people to tell me whether or not they think that the lives of poor young African American men that live in certain communities in every city—whether their lives matter…that’s all I want to know: that the answer to that is ‘yes’.”

Here’s a clip:

“It’s a roll of the dice. People get out of Central City, they do,” Landrieu told me recently. “But many don’t. If life had gone differently for Joseph Norfleet and James Darby, who knows? Joseph Norfleet could have been that 9-year-old victim. Maybe Joseph Norfleet would be dead and James Darby would be in prison today. We see this so often—today’s shooter is tomorrow’s victim.”

The prison [Angola], 130 miles from New Orleans, could legitimately be considered the city’s most distant neighborhood. Of the roughly 6,300 men currently imprisoned at Angola—three-quarters of them there for life, and nearly 80 percent of them African American—about 2,000 at any given moment are from New Orleans. Thousands of children in New Orleans—a city whose population today is roughly 380,000—have fathers who will reside until death in Angola.

“This place will bring you to your knees,” Landrieu said.

Why?

“What you’re going to see is a huge governing failure on the part of our society. This country has the highest incarceration rate in the world, and Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the country. That’s failure.”

Landrieu visits Angola on occasion to learn more about a crisis that has come to consume him. He decided, early in his first term, to devote the resources of his city to solving one of this country’s most diabolical challenges—the persistence of homicide in poor African American communities. The numbers are staggering. From 1980 to 2013, 262,000 black males were killed in America. By contrast, roughly 58,000 Americans died in Vietnam. In New Orleans, about 6,000 African American men have been murdered since 1980. The killers of these men were, in the vast majority of cases, other African American men. In New Orleans, 80 percent of murder victims are believed to have known their killer.

[SNIP]

As we drove to Angola, I asked Landrieu why he has made homicide—a seemingly ineradicable disease in a gun-saturated country whose popular culture glorifies violence—his chief priority.

“I didn’t grab this. This problem grabbed me,” he said. “I guess you could say I’m obsessed with it. I don’t understand why it’s okay in America—a country that’s supposed to be the greatest country in the world, a place with more wealth than anywhere else—for us to leave so many of our citizens basically dead. Why do we allow our citizens to kill each other as if it’s the cost of doing business? We have basically given up on our African American boys. I’d be a cold son of a bitch if I ignored it, if I just focused on the other side of town, or focused just on tourism.

“I’m absolutely certain we have the money and the capacity to solve this problem, but we do not have the will. This problem doesn’t touch enough Americans to rise to the level of a national crisis. But these are all our children. I’m embarrassed by it. How could this be normal?”


FORMER LASD CAPTAIN TOM CAREY’S OFFICIAL GUILTY PLEA, AND WHY FORMER SHERIFF LEE BACA SHOULD WORRY

On Wednesday, former Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Captain William “Tom” Carey officially changed his plea to guilty in the obstruction of justice trial involving the hiding of a federal informant from the FBI.

Standing before US District Judge Percy Anderson, Carey pled guilty to one count of perjury. In exchange, three separate charges of obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and another count of lying on the witness stand, are to be dismissed.

In return, Carey will have to fully cooperate with the feds and provide testimony in related trials, including that of his co-defendant, former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, and that of former Sheriff Lee Baca, who has not been indicted, but may be federal prosecutors’ next target.

ABC7′s Miriam Hernandez and Lisa Bartley were there in court and have the story. Here are some clips:

Former Sheriff Leroy “Lee” Baca might be getting nervous right about now.

Retired Captain William “Tom” Carey, 57, officially changed his plea to guilty on Wednesday, becoming the highest-ranking Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department official to flip in the years-long federal investigation.

“Guilty,” Carey stated under oath as he stood before Judge Percy Anderson alongside his defense attorney Andrew Stolper.

Carey cut a deal with prosecutors that requires total cooperation with law enforcement as they forge ahead in their investigation of corruption and inmate abuse inside county jails, which are run by the LASD.

Speculation is growing that Baca, who abruptly resigned in January 2014, could be in the crosshairs of federal prosecutors.

“We’ve seen in the investigation of this case that the prosecution has been trying to go as high as they can, even to the sheriff himself,” said Laurie Levenson, a Loyola Law School professor and former federal prosecutor.

Carey’s co-defendant, former LASD Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, goes on trial this November for his alleged role in the scheme to block the FBI investigation.

[SNIP]

Carey’s plea deal means that three felony counts — obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice and one count of making false statements — will be dismissed.

Carey pleaded guilty to one count of making another false statement, which points to what prosecutors say was the true motivation for hiding Brown from the FBI.

At the trial of Deputy James Sexton in May 2014, Carey testified that there was no other reason to move Brown other than for his own safety.

Carey now admits that was a lie because he “knew that the deputies ordered to stand guard over Inmate AB during this time were there, at least in part, so that the FBI could not have access to Inmate AB unless there was an order from co-defendant Tanaka or another LASD executive that would have allowed access.”

Carey’s cooperation agreement means he is likely to testify against Tanaka at his upcoming trial, although defense attorneys are sure to attack Carey’s credibility now that he’s admitted to previously lying on the witness stand.

Posted in LAPD, LASD, law enforcement, Sheriff Lee Baca, Violence Prevention | 29 Comments »

LA Jail Plan to be Reconsidered….Rebuilding Jordan Downs….and Bail

August 18th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LAST WEEK’S LA COUNTY JAIL PLAN VOTE APPEARS TO BE IN VIOLATION OF THE BROWN ACT

The LA County Board of Supervisors may have violated the Brown Act when they voted on a proposed amendment to a large-scale plan to divert mentally ill from county jails last Tuesday. The amendment, proposed by Supe. Michael Antonovich, was to launch construction on two new jails—one, a 3,885-bed replacement of Men’s Central Jail (to the tune of $2 billion), and the other, a women’s jail renovation at Mira Loma Detention Facility.

Because the board agenda did not mention there would be a discussion or vote on the jail construction, advocates and others say the vote was illegal according to the Brown Act which guarantees the public’s right to attend and participate in meetings of local government bodies.

Supe. Antonovich has since submitted a motion to reconsider the jail plans on September 1, but the ACLU’s Peter Eliasberg is worried the new “ambiguous” motion also means the jail diversion plan it’s attached to will also be reconsidered, unnecessarily.

“The only thing that really needs to be recalendared and opened for comment is the board’s decision to go ahead with the jail plan,” said Eliasberg. “As far as I’m concerned, the diversion motion was properly noted and should be treated as properly passed.”

The Daily News’ Sarah Favot has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

“We understood that there were members of the public concerned that there was not enough time to participate in the process,” Antonovich spokesman Tony Bell said Monday. “We recalendared the item to make sure anyone who wanted to provide input on this item had that opportunity.”

The vote to continue construction of a $2 billion new jail in downtown L.A. to replace Men’s Central Jail and the renovation of a women’s jail at Mira Loma Detention Facility was tacked onto a motion during last week’s meeting on the jail diversion plan.

Antonovich proposed an amendment to the jail diversion motion by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl that would authorize contractors to continue construction on the two jails and proposed that 4,600 beds be built in the downtown jail that would house mentally ill inmates, inmates who have substance abuse issues and those who require medical attention.

Kuehl proposed a change to Antonovich’s amendment that the new jail have 3,885 beds, which was approved by a 3-1 vote with Supervisor Hilda Solis abstaining.

The diversion plan was approved by a 4-1 vote, with Supervisor Don Knabe opposed. Knabe said he wanted to have a flexible number of beds so that if the diversion efforts were successful, the number of beds in the jail could be reduced.

The agenda did not mention there would be discussion or a vote on the jail plan.

The jail plan was discussed at the Aug. 4 board meeting, but no vote was taken. At that meeting, the supervisors discussed a consultant’s report on the number of beds required at the new downtown jail facility.

During last week’s meeting, Peter Eliasberg, ACLU legal advisor, said the vote violated the Brown Act, which governs open meetings for local government bodies. He said the board opened itself up to a lawsuit.

The problematic vote riled the LA Times’ Editorial Board. Here’s the first paragraph of the board’s response:

Why does the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors even bother with agendas? Why post them, why even write them up, if the supervisors are simply going to ignore them and barge ahead with non-agendized business, approving costly and controversial projects such as new jail construction without public notice — without sufficient notice even to one another — and without serious analysis of the consequences?

We’ll keep you updated.


EDITORIAL: LA CAN’T KEEP JORDAN DOWNS WAITING FOR MUCH-NEEDED REBUILD

Plans for major reconstruction of the once-notorious 700-unit Jordan Downs housing project in Watts have been on hold for years.

The Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA) has been sitting on a $700 million plan to clean up the subsidized housing community, and add 700 more units, as well as restaurants and shops meant to provide jobs opportunities to Jordan Downs residents and the rest of the Watts community.

Jordan Downs has a history of gang violence, but is not as bad as it once was. The housing project went nearly four years without a homicide (until this April). Before that, from 2000-2011, 25 people were killed there.

Money has been spent on substance abuse treatment, community policing, child care, job training, and other programs including, Project Fatherhood. Through the Project Fatherhood program, men from Jordan Downs meet every week to teach each other, and younger men in the community, how to be fathers.

HACLA has lost out on federal funding, and is in the middle of cleaning up an adjacent toxic factory site on 21 acres, both of which are causing delays. But the LA Times’ Editorial Board says HACLA and city officials must make the Jordan Downs rebuild a priority, and get it built. Here’s a clip:

Numerous challenges lie ahead: There are commitments for some funding but hardly all of it, and the Housing Authority has twice lost out on federal grants for the project. Residents, meanwhile, are fearful of how the rethinking and reconstruction of their homes will change their lives.

The goal of public housing has long been to provide temporary shelter to families who need time to get on their feet before moving on, but Jordan Downs has become a multi-generational village that celebrates together and mourns together. The complex has been the site of both gang warfare and truce.

Questions of ideology and pragmatism lurk in the background. Has traditional public housing failed? Will adding market-rate housing and retail better serve the people who live there? Will the new Jordan Downs be an alternative to old-style projects such as Nickerson Gardens, Imperial Courts and Gonzaque Village, or a model for them?

However those questions are answered, it’s crucial for current and future residents that Jordan Downs be rebuilt into a complex that could offer a way out of subsidized housing and up the economic ladder.

[SNIP]

Plans for the new development have it maintaining 700 units of subsidized housing, and every resident in good standing at the old Jordan Downs is being promised a home there. An additional 700 units of market-rate and affordable housing would also be built. Ideally, subsidized residents would get jobs and earn more income and graduate to nonsubsidized housing, possibly in the same complex. The retail complex would also offer job opportunities for residents in Jordan Downs and throughout Watts.

But first, it has to get built.


AMERICA’S DISEASED BAIL SYSTEM AND PRE-TRIAL DETENTION

The NY Times’ Nick Pinto takes a hard look at bail,the punishment-until-proven-innocent system that disproportionately affects the poor and keeps jails and prisons overflowing.

More than half of the nearly 750,000 people locked in city and county jails nationwide have not been convicted of a crime. And many of them remain in jail awaiting trial because can’t pay the bail amount a judge has set, not because they are a threat to public safety or in danger of absconding.

Time spent in jail pretrial, solely because a poor person gets arrested and can’t afford bail, can be extremely counterproductive for all concerned, causing loss of the person’s job, removing a parent from his or her family unnecessarily, and contributing to the cycle of incarceration that keeps jails and prisons stuffed.

The broken bail system also pressures people to take plea deals they might otherwise refuse, so as not to have to spend weeks, months, or years, behind bars without a conviction. Sometimes, like in the case of Sandra Brown (link), victims of the bail system don’t even make it out alive.

In the case of Kalief Browder, an inability to post $3,000 bail led to a three-year stint at Rikers Island, most of which was spent in solitary confinement. Browder came out of Rikers and isolation and struggled for three years with mental illness and the aftereffects of prolonged solitary confinement. Browder tried to kill himself several times, finally succeeding in June of this year. He was 22-years-old.

Here’s how Pinto’s story opens:

On the morning of Nov. 20 last year, Tyrone Tomlin sat in the cage of one of the Brooklyn criminal courthouse’s interview rooms, a bare white cinder-block cell about the size of an office cubicle. Hardly visible through the heavy steel screen in front of him was Alison Stocking, the public defender who had just been assigned to his case. Tomlin, exhausted and frustrated, was trying to explain how he came to be arrested the afternoon before. It wasn’t entirely clear to Tomlin himself. Still in his work clothes, his boots encrusted with concrete dust, he recounted what had happened.

The previous afternoon, he was heading home from a construction job. Tomlin had served two short stints in prison on felony convictions for auto theft and selling drugs in the late ’80s and mid-’90s, but even now, grizzled with white stubble and looking older than his 53 years, he found it hard to land steady work and relied on temporary construction gigs to get by. Around the corner from his home in Crown Heights, the Brooklyn neighborhood where Tomlin has lived his entire life, he ran into some friends near the corner of Schenectady and Lincoln Avenues outside the FM Brothers Discount store, its stock of buckets, mops, backpacks and toilet paper overflowing onto the sidewalk. As he and his friends caught up, two plainclothes officers from the New York Police Department’s Brooklyn North narcotics squad, recognizable by the badges on their belts and their bulletproof vests, paused outside the store. At the time, Tomlin thought nothing of it. ‘‘I’m not doing anything wrong,’’ he remembers thinking. ‘‘We’re just talking.’’

Tomlin broke off to go inside the store and buy a soda. The clerk wrapped it in a paper bag and handed him a straw. Back outside, as the conversation wound down, one of the officers called the men over. He asked one of Tomlin’s friends if he was carrying anything he shouldn’t; he frisked him. Then he turned to Tomlin, who was holding his bagged soda and straw. ‘‘He thought it was a beer,’’ Tomlin guesses. ‘‘He opens the bag up, it was a soda. He says, ‘What you got in the other hand?’ I says, ‘I got a straw that I’m about to use for the soda.’ ’’ The officer asked Tomlin if he had anything on him that he shouldn’t. ‘‘I says, ‘No, you can check me, I don’t have nothing on me.’ He checks me. He’s going all through my socks and everything.’’ The next thing Tomlin knew, he says, he was getting handcuffed. ‘‘I said, ‘Officer, what am I getting locked up for?’ He says, ‘Drug paraphernalia.’ I says, ‘Drug paraphernalia?’ He opens up his hand and shows me the straw.”

Stocking, an attorney with Brooklyn Defender Services, a public-defense office that represents 45,000 indigent clients a year, had picked up Tomlin’s case file a few minutes before interviewing him. The folder was fat, always a bad sign to a public defender. The documentation submitted by the arresting officer explained that his training and experience told him that plastic straws are “a commonly used method of packaging heroin residue.” The rest of the file contained Tomlin’s criminal history, which included 41 convictions, all of them, save the two decades-old felonies, for low-level nonviolent misdemeanors — crimes of poverty like shoplifting food from the corner store. With a record like that, Stocking told her client, the district attorney’s office would most likely ask the judge to set bail, and there was a good chance that the judge would do it. If Tomlin couldn’t come up with the money, he’d go to jail until his case was resolved.

Their conversation didn’t last long. On average, a couple of hundred cases pass through Brooklyn’s arraignment courtrooms every day, and the public defenders who handle the overwhelming majority of those cases rarely get to spend more than 10 minutes with each client before the defendant is called into court for arraignment. Before leaving, Stocking relayed what the assistant district attorney told her a few minutes earlier: The prosecution was prepared to offer Tomlin a deal. Plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of criminal possession of a controlled substance, serve 30 days on Rikers and be done with it. Tomlin said he wasn’t interested. A guilty plea would only add to his record and compound the penalties if he were arrested again. ‘‘They’re mistaken,’’ he told Stocking. ‘‘It’s a regular straw!’’ When the straw was tested by the police evidence lab, he assured her, it would show that he was telling the truth. In the meantime, there was no way he was pleading guilty to anything.

When it was Tomlin’s turn in front of the judge, events unfolded as predicted: The assistant district attorney handling the case offered him 30 days for a guilty plea. After he refused, the A.D.A. asked for bail. The judge agreed, setting it at $1,500. Tomlin, living paycheck to paycheck, had nothing like that kind of money. ‘‘If it had been $100, I might have been able to get that,’’ he said afterward. As it was, less than 24 hours after getting off work, Tomlin was on a bus to Rikers Island, New York’s notorious jail complex, where his situation was about to get a lot worse.

But the bail system wasn’t always this way.

When the concept first took shape in England during the Middle Ages, it was emancipatory. Rather than detaining people indefinitely without trial, magistrates were required to let defendants go free before seeing a judge, guaranteeing their return to court with a bond. If the defendant failed to return, he would forfeit the amount of the bond. The bond might be secured — that is, with some or all of the amount of the bond paid in advance and returned at the end of the trial — or it might not. In 1689, the English Bill of Rights outlawed the widespread practice of keeping defendants in jail by setting deliberately unaffordable bail, declaring that ‘‘excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed.’’ The same language was adopted word for word a century later in the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Posted in ACLU, HACLA, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, mental health, pretrial detention/release, Rehabilitation, Violence Prevention | 7 Comments »

LA Supes Hold Discussion on LASD Oversight, Richmond’s Anti-Violence Program, Pell Grants for Prisoners, and Calexico’s Police Chief

July 29th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LA COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS HEAR RECOMMENDATIONS AND HOLD DISCUSSION ON CREATING CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT FOR LASD

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors held a discussion on the final recommendations from the working group tasked with figuring out how to structure a civilian oversight panel for the LA County Sheriff’s Department.

The group spent six months working toward this final report, and held thirteen public meetings and nine town hall meetings across the county to gather community input.

Former CEO of Public Counsel and working group member, Hernan Vera, said that, in studying other counties’ oversight boards, they noted three broad powers: the ability to look into and address systemic and procedural problems within the department, to investigate individual instances of alleged misconduct and excessive use of force allegations, and to build a bridge to the community through transparency, accountability, and dialogue.

The working group voted 4-3 in favor of recommending giving subpoena power to the commission. Vera acknowledged it as the “elephant in the room” jumped right into discussing the issue.

“First, we believe at the end of this process, that this commission wouldn’t enjoy the full trust and confidence of the public without that power,” said Vera. “That was made clear to us. So much of the public testimony centered around this issue.”

Vera continued, “The majority who voted for this believed that this commission wouldn’t be able to do its job as effectively without its power…the commission itself wouldn’t be seen as truly independent without this power because everything would have to be negotiated. And the commission, bottom line, would be dependent on the generosity or good will of the sheriff’s department to get the records that it needs.”

There may have to be changes to state law, however, to make subpoena power possible. County Counsel told the board they are still looking into whether it would need to go on next year’s ballot or not.

Supervisor Mike Antonovich expressed concern over officer privacy. “We would have to ensure that anyone who has access to those records is aware of the need to keep them confidential. We’re exploring options to address that issue,” said Antonovich. “We could have confidentiality agreements drafted. And there could be penalties associated with violation of those agreements. Under the law, there’s also the Peace Officer Bill of Rights…if you violate it and breach confidentiality…there could be consequences, even misdemeanor consequences.”

Also on the working group, was LASD Undersheriff Neal Tyler, who said Sheriff Jim McDonnell was concerned about the idea of subpoena power, and thought it unnecessary.

The sheriff wants the county to hold off on trying to set up subpoena power, and first work on a memorandum of agreement (MOA), which could take as little as a couple of weeks to establish. Then, if that agreement does not live up to the level of access desired by the commission and board, subpoena power could go on the 2016 ballot.

In answer to this, Supe Mark Ridley-Thomas said that the issue must be looked at structurally and systematically, and that, respectfully, his “days of of deferring to a sheriff, elected or not…are over.”

Inspector General Max Huntsman, who is also part of the working group, says he has been trying to get an MOA in place for the Office of Inspector General for the last year and a half, and because the working group did not yet have an MOA from the Sheriff for the commission, the group had to consider subpoena power. “In order to accomplish the goals of this board, I think what’s important is complete access,” said Huntsman. “At the time we took that vote, there was no MOA on the table. We still do not have an MOA in place. I’ve been here for a year and a half, and haven’t been able to get an MOA. …In the working group, we had no option but to pursue something else that would allow us to implement that goal.”

Huntsman continued, “Subpoena power by itself does not get us access to the kind of detailed internal information that I think is absolutely critical in order to accomplish the goals of this board.”

Vera said that having subpoena power would be important for the commission to have as backup. “What we heard from cities like San Diego…is that the mere fact of having subpoena power facilitates broader access and a more effective commission,” said Vera. The subpoena power will not be needed 99% of the time, according to Vera, as the the commission will go through the MOA. “But the fact that it exists just creates more of an incentive to comply…the jurisdictions that haven’t had that, have had to work out a way of negotiating for records. And when the sheriff’s department says no, the conversation ends there.”

Among other important topics of discussion were whether undocumented immigrants could serve on the commission, as well as whether retired sworn personnel could serve as commission members, or whether that would create a conflict of interest.

No consensus was definitively reached by the board on any one topic, and no date was set to vote on the commission, but the hearing was an important step toward establishing oversight.

“It is not as if we are engaged in any revolutionary act here with respect to the establishment of an oversight commission….we are rather late to the party,” said Ridley-Thomas. “Oversight commissions exist all over the length and breadth of this country, and it’s about time that Los Angeles County got with the program.”


NEW REPORT SAYS RICHMOND, CA, HAS MADE A HUGE TURNAROUND ON GUN VIOLENCE AND RECIDIVISM RATES THROUGH THEIR FIRST-OF-ITS-KIND PROGRAM

The city of Richmond, CA, is seeing incredible success with their unique anti-violence program, according to a new report from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Just under a decade ago, the city of Richmond, CA had one of the highest homicide rates in the nation. In 2007, there were 47 gun-related homicides in the city of 106,000 people. 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-years-old to take part in an 18-month program. Participants receive a monthly stipend between $300 and $1000 for nine of those months, along with mentoring, education, and other services.

In 2013, 6 years after the launch of ONS, there were 15 homicides per 100,000 residents—the lowest number Richmond had seen in 33 years. And the homicide rate continues to drop.

And those participants, most likely to shoot or be shot, are, for the most part, staying alive and out of trouble: 94% of the 68 men to complete the program are still alive, and 79% have not been arrested or charged with a firearm-related crime since.

(WLA has previously written about Richmond’s Police Chief Chris Magnus, who has vastly improved officer morale and the police-community relationship.)

Mother Jones’ Tim Murphy has more on the report. Here’s a clip:

The conclusion was positive: “While a number of factors including policy changes, policing efforts, an improving economic climate, and an overall decline in crime may have helped to facilitate this shift, many individuals interviewed for this evaluation cite the work of the ONS, which began in late 2007, as a strong contributing factor in a collaborative effort to decrease violence in Richmond.”

As evidence, the study cites the life-changing effect on fellows. Ninety-four percent of fellows are still alive. And perhaps just as remarkable, 79 percent have not been arrested or charged with gun-related offenses during that time period.

“While replication of the Fellowship itself may be more arduous because of the dynamic leadership associated with the current model, the framework of the Fellowship could be used to improve outcomes for communities across the country,” the study’s authors wrote. “The steps taken to craft programming developed with clients in mind, and being responsive to their needs and the needs of the community, can serve as a model.”


OBAMA ADMINISTRATION TO TRY OUT GIVING FEDERAL PELL GRANTS TO PRISONERS

On Friday the US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and US Attorney General Loretta Lynch are slated to reveal A 3-5 year plan to give federal Pell Grants—college grants for low-income students—to thousands of prisoners across the nation, reversing a 1993 ban on giving such grants to inmates.

Through the grants, prisoners will receive up to $5,775 per year to spend on tuition, books, and other education expenses.

The hope is that, by opening up access to education for prisoners, recidivism rates will drop, saving states and the federal government piles of money in the long run.

The Wall Street Journal’s Josh Mitchell and Joe Palazzolo have the story. Here’s a clip:

Prisoners received $34 million in Pell grants in 1993, according to figures the Department of Education provided to Congress at the time. But a year later, Congress prohibited state and federal prison inmates from getting Pell grants as part of broad anticrime legislation, leading to a sharp drop in the number of in-prison college programs. Supporters of the ban contended federal aid should only go to law-abiding citizens.

Between the mid-1990s and 2013, the U.S. prison population doubled to about 1.6 million inmates, many of them repeat offenders, Justice Department figures show. Members of both parties—including President Barack Obama, a Democrat, and Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky—have called for a broad examination of criminal justice, such as rewriting sentencing guidelines.

A 2013 study by the Rand Corp. found that inmates who participated in education programs, including college courses, had significantly lower odds of returning to prison than inmates who didn’t.

Some congressional Democrats have proposed lifting the ban. Meanwhile, administration officials have indicated they would use a provision of the Higher Education Act that gives the Education Department the authority to temporarily waive rules, such as the Pell-grant ban, as part of an experiment to study their effectiveness.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Attorney General Loretta Lynch are expected to announce the program, which likely would last three to five years to yield data on recidivism rates, at a prison in Jessup, Md., on Friday. Key details aren’t yet clear, such as which institutions and what types of convicts would be allowed to participate.


MEET CHIEF MICHAEL BOSTIC, HEAD OF THE TROUBLED CALEXICO, CA POLICE DEPARTMENT

The LA Times’ Joel Rubin has a long read profile on Calexico Police Chief Michael Bostic, a former LAPD Assistant Chief, who took the helm of an agency that was the subject of an FBI investigation, and was drowning in officer misconduct scandals. Chief Bostic has been very vocal about problems plaguing the department he says he has come to fix.

In April, Chief Bostic asked the DOJ to step in and help him clean up the border city’s police department. The DOJ, via its Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, said it would provide extensive training and would help build a community policing unit over the next three years.

Bostic does have critics, however, including some who question the hefty paycheck he receives for leading a rather small department.

Here’s a clip from Rubin’s story:

Since arriving in Calexico, Bostic has unabashedly presented himself as a savior, promising residents he will rid their Police Department of “the cancer living within it” — a refrain during his first months on the job.

“These people are so desperate for help,” he said. “The LAPD has given me a unique set of skills and training that you can’t get many places…. I know exactly what to do to fix this place.”

Bostic hasn’t shied away from such grand statements, touting the major role he played in reforming the LAPD. Although he did have a hand in trying to push through changes that followed some of the LAPD’s worst episodes, the reality of his time there is more modest.

In the wake of the videotaped beating by officers of Rodney King, then-Chief Daryl Gates assigned Bostic to review the department’s use-of-force and training procedures. In his role, Bostic was critical of some problems he identified but wasn’t in a position to make significant changes himself.

Bostic testified as the government’s use-of-force expert during the state trial against the officers. Defense attorneys picked him apart on cross-examination, however, forcing him to admit he had formed his opinion of the beating after only a few viewings of the tape. After acquitting the officers, jurors said that they did not find Bostic credible.

He climbed the ranks to become an assistant chief, at times running the department when the chief was away. But after Bostic clashed with William Bratton, who was hired as chief in 2002, Bratton demoted him and exiled him from his inner circle.

Soon after he took over in Calexico, Bostic said he contacted the FBI, relaying concerns he had about some of his officers. Then, on a morning in late October, dozens of agents descended on the police station, seizing computer hard drives and documents.

FBI officials acknowledged the ongoing investigation but declined to comment on its scope or focus. Bostic, for his part, has refused to elaborate on the probe. But it seems to have struck a sensitive chord with him. Twice after the raid, Bostic choked back tears when answering reporters’ questions about the investigation.

“There could be nothing more embarrassing than to have your department under that kind of scrutiny…. It was literally the most disappointing day in all my years of policing,” he said at one news conference after composing himself.

The problems, Bostic said, stemmed from half a dozen or so officers, who also held sway in the police officers union. Bostic said they effectively ran the department, threatening other officers with misconduct investigations if they got out of line and running the department’s $450,000 annual budget for overtime to nearly $1.5 million.

“They believed they were untouchable. They still believe it, even since I’ve arrived. They’ve been protected for so long.”

Posted in Education, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, law enforcement, Obama, prison, Violence Prevention | 16 Comments »

Community Policing, Drugging Foster Kids, Banning Solitary for Kids, and Combatting Sex Trafficking

May 20th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LAPD ANNOUNCES A COMMUNITY POLICING PILOT PROGRAM THAT WILL ADD 16 NEW FOOT PATROL COPS TO EASTSIDE

On Monday, the Los Angeles Police Department announced a pilot program that will increase the number of foot patrol officers in its Hollenbeck Division.

The “Hollenbeck Community Partners Program” will have sixteen beat cops walking corridors in areas like Boyle Heights, Lincoln Heights and El Sereno, as part of the LAPD’s increased community policing and crime prevention efforts. Eight new pairs of beat cops may not sound like a lot, but the move is a significant one for a department that has traditionally relied on officers in cruisers to patrol its territory, which stretches 468 square miles and has a population of four million.

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has more on the program and what the department and members of the community hope it will achieve. Here are some clips:

Relationship-based policing requires staying in a neighborhood. It is an increasingly popular term among criminal justice experts and civil rights activists who say police have become too disconnected from the communities they police. The Los Angeles-based Advancement Project is one proponent.

The LAPD, which has fewer officers per capita than many big city police departments, has used foot patrols on a limited basis on Skid Row, in Venice and elsewhere. The sprawl of Los Angeles makes it hard to patrol effectively and efficiently by foot.

The increase comes less than a month after the LAPD announced it’s quadrupling the size of its elite Metropolitan Division to 200. In contrast to the foot patrols, Metro cops are assigned to swoop into high crime areas with an eye toward making a lot of stops and arrests. Some worry that effort could hurt community policing efforts.

[SNIP]

Foot patrol officers typically make fewer arrests.

“I like to think of it as more preventing crimes,” said Officer Joe Romo, who may be the most veteran foot officer in the city at 16 years. “It’s a more positive way to police.”

He said he arrests about ten people a year. Officers in patrol cars responding to radio calls arrest five to ten people a month, he said.

“I’m not expecting these guys to be hauling people in left and right,” said Baeza, the area captain. “I am expecting them to build relationships and partnerships with the community.”

The LA Times’ Kate Mather also reported on the LAPD’s program. Here’s a clip:

If the effort goes well, officials said, they will look for ways to expand “foot beats” across the city.

It’s a back-to-basics approach that is common in other cities that are more compact, like Chicago, or that have larger departments, like New York, but it never became a staple of policing in Los Angeles, where officers rely on patrol cars to cover the city’s roughly 470 square miles.

“We have foot beats that come and go and foot beats that work some areas, but none that will be like in Hollenbeck,” said Assistant Chief Jorge Villegas. “One hundred percent of the time, that’s all they’ll do.”

The move marks a step away from the iconic image of LAPD officers cruising down palm-lined streets in black-and-white cars.

Newsweek’s Victoria Bekiempis has an interesting story exploring the “catch-22″ of placing more cops—even cops intending to rebuild police-community relations—on the streets in communities that are feeling over-policed in the first place. Here’s a clip, but go read the rest:

The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, meanwhile, is charged with determining the best ways police can reduce crime and build trust with communities. In early March, the task force published an hundred-plus page interim report that emphasizes community policing as a way to achieve these goals—in fact, “Community Policing & Crime Reduction” is one of the six listed “pillars” in the report. Some of the recommendations in this section seem almost tailor-made for foot patrol proponents. Police must communicate with people at times other than emergency calls or crime investigations, the report recommends. Law enforcement agencies must allow officers time “to participate in problem solving and community engagement activities” during patrols, the report says.

Foot patrol sounds like an even better idea when you look at the data. Research has indicated it both improves police-community relations and fights crime. Though these positive outcomes make foot patrol quite an appealing policing tactic today, they happened before a year that saw the police-involved deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice and Walter Scott—and, most recently, Freddie Gray.

While man-on-the-street interviews wouldn’t provide quantitative data, I had been looking into foot patrol for a while, including earlier reporting on St. Petersburg’s initiative, and I had traveled to Baltimore hours before the city burned to try to find out whether residents thought the requirement would work, both in general and in light of Gray’s death. In interviews, the general sentiment was that foot patrol, like other community-policing techniques, was either a pipe dream or a paradox: Foot patrol could build much-needed trust in communities of color, but not until trust had first been restored. Residents conceded, however, that restoring trust probably wouldn’t happen if successful community-police engagement programs, such as foot patrol, weren’t already in place.

Sure, this doesn’t mean that foot patrol wouldn’t work, but it suggests that officials’ enthusiasm for foot patrol might be too glib—and that a lot of people supposedly poised to benefit from this kind of community policing absolutely do not want more cops on the streets right now.

On a stretch of sidewalk empty save for a few shuffling seniors, neighborhood resident Thomas Thornton says Baltimore’s foot patrol program isn’t inherently ill-conceived but is an awful idea given recent events. Before Gray brought police-community relations to a breaking point in Baltimore, resentment had long been building, explains Thornton, who works as a janitor. He says police routinely stop him and others in the neighborhood and ask, “Where are you going?” and “What are you doing?” Residents “see the uniform as a threat,” and that perception has intensified, he says.

“At this time, I don’t think it’s a good time to walk around—at all,” says Thornton, 45, speaking of foot patrol. “Maybe eventually, but at the present time, I wouldn’t recommend it. Not right now. Because it’s so tense.”

Marguerite Johnston, also a neighborhood resident, doesn’t think all police are bad based on the behavior of a few; she was raised not to judge people like that, she says. Johnston, 61, says the bad ones have nothing better to do than pick on people. Police officers should get to know their community, she says, recalling a time when a uniformed cop used to walk her neighborhood and even knew her by name. Maybe this kind of familiarity would build relationships, she says, and would make things better. Foot patrol is a good idea, she agrees, just not any time soon, given the present tensions.

“Maybe down the road? Probably sometime at the end of the year?” Johnston says. “It’s a catch-22. The police should probably try harder to gain the community’s trust before doing these projects.”

Then there was outright pessimism—a lot of it, actually.

“It’s only going to make it worse,” says Kyree Brown, who was sitting on a stoop with friends near the police station, talking about foot patrol. “It’s them against us.”

Could people trust police, then, if the programs that are supposed to engender trust don’t work?


THE COST OF PROTECTING CA’S FOSTER KIDS FROM DOCTORS PRESCRIBING THEM DANGEROUS PSYCHOTROPIC MEDS

A package of four California reform bills to address over-drugging in California foster care system could cost $8 million—and possibly over $22 million—per year, according to court estimates. The bills have bipartisan support, and have a good chance of making it through both legislative houses and onto Governor Jerry Brown’s desk.

Karen de Sá, who has been doing some powerful investigative reporting on the excessive use of psychotropic medications to treat California kids in the foster care system, has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

“When you consider the long-term harm and consequences to the kids being doped up like this, it’s really pennies — I personally believe $8 million is budget dust,” said Mike Herald, a legislative advocate with the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “But in my experience, just about anything is subject to his rejection if it’s going to cost millions of dollars.”

In an early sign of possible support, however, Brown’s $115.3 billion budget plan released Thursday included two surprises: $149,000 to improve data on prescribing to foster children, and an increase of $1.5 million for social worker training that includes psychotropic medication issues.

“This is an exciting development,” said Kathryn Dresslar, who was chief of staff to former Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and is with the nonprofit advocacy group Children’s Partnership. “The fact that there are dollars in the budget right now that specifically mention training for psychotropic drugs, and the kind of tracking that we need, is good news — I think that means that the administration intends to address this problem in some way to a greater extent than they have in the past.”

Under four bills inspired by this newspaper’s ongoing investigation “Drugging Our Kids,” a mix of federal and state funds would be used to hire 38 new public health nurses; provide second medical opinions, and train social workers and caregivers to watch out for side effects and to advocate for alternatives to mind-numbing meds. Juvenile court judges could not approve prescriptions for foster children without lab tests and ongoing monitoring and unless kids 14 and older consented in writing. Social workers would be alerted about prescriptions for young children and those on multiple meds; and there would be new oversight of residential group homes, where the medications are most frequently prescribed.

Policy analysts say the four reform bills authored by Sens. Jim Beall, D-San Jose; Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, and Bill Monning, D-Carmel, will save the state money, with fewer costly and unnecessary drugs billed to the public health system. California taxpayers spend more on psychotropics than on drugs of any other kind for foster children, this newspaper found, more than $226 million over a decade.


CONTRA COSTA KICKS SOLITARY CONFINEMENT FOR KIDS TO THE CURB

As part of a groundbreaking settlement, Contra Costa County Probation and has agreed to end solitary confinement in the county’s Juvenile Hall. Kids will no longer endure prolonged isolation (for more than four hours) as punishment or for convenience. After the four-hour mark, kids must either be removed from solitary confinement, be placed in an individualized program, or be sent to a mental health facility.

Contra Costa’s Dept. of Education has also agreed to make sure that locked up kids with disabilities are getting their educational needs met.

Public Counsel has more on the settlement and its implications. Here’s a clip:

“At a time when the nation is re-evaluating the use of solitary confinement, this settlement is of extraordinary public importance,” said Mary-Lee Smith, Managing Attorney at Disability Rights Advocates. “In Contra Costa County, the draconian practice of solitary confinement will come to an end and the focus will be, as it should, on education and rehabilitation. Our hope is that other facilities across the nation will follow suit.”

Under the settlement agreement with the Contra Costa County Probation Department, the County will no longer use solitary confinement (also known as room confinement) for punitive reasons, discipline, or for expediency. In line with national standards, the County may segregate a youth in his or her room for no more than four hours and only if the youth’s behavior threatens immediate harm to themselves or others. After four hours, the Department must remove the youth from confinement, develop specialized individualized programming for the youth, or assess whether the youth should be transported to a mental health facility. The settlement also calls for two joint experts to review the Department’s practices, implement changes to improve conditions for young people with disabilities, and monitor compliance for two years.

“This landmark settlement puts an end to the egregious practice of subjecting children with disabilities to inhumane maximum security-like prison conditions and unconscionable deprivations of education,” said Public Counsel Education Rights Director Laura Faer. “The promise of this settlement for youth in the juvenile hall is real rehabilitation, support instead of isolation and segregation, and high quality special education services and options. If the Defendants bury the hatchet and focus on implementation, Contra Costa can become a model for the state and the Nation.”

Under the settlement agreement with the Contra Costa County Office of Education, the County Office of Education will retain an outside expert to evaluate its compliance with federal and state special education laws and to ensure that the students with disabilities in Juvenile Hall receive the special education that they need. The expert will make recommended revisions to policies, procedures and practices as they relate to Child Find, development and implementation of individualized education plans, and discipline and monitor compliance for two years.


LA COUNTY SUPES APPROVE $$$ FOR TRAINING STAFF AND COMMUNITY ON HOW TO RECOGNIZE KIDS WHO ARE VICTIMS OF SEX TRAFFICKING

The LA County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to allocate $250,000 to train county staff and community partners to identify young victims of sex trafficking. The LA County Probation Dept. has already trained 7,000 individuals, but more must be done to protect the county’s children from exploitation, according to the motion by Supe. Don Knabe.

Probation will use the money to develop further training in collaboration with other county departments and community groups, and to train thousands more people to recognize the warning signs earlier.

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Foster Care, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAPD, solitary, Violence Prevention | 2 Comments »

Koch Campaign, Violence Intervention in Hospitals, Mental Illness and Solitary, Legislation Against Over-medicating Foster Kids

February 4th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

A FACE FOR THE KOCH BROS’ CAMPAIGN AGAINST MANDATORY MINIMUM SENTENCES, CIVIL FORFEITURE, AND MORE

Weldon Angelos will spend 55 years in prison for selling weed while carrying a firearm, a punishment tremendously disproportionate to the crime, thanks to mandatory minimum sentencing laws. The conservative multi-billionaire Koch brothers want to help free Angelos (only possible through a presidential pardon), and introduce him as the face of their criminal justice system reform campaign. The campaign will target harsh mandatory minimum laws, overcriminalization of non-serious, non-violent offenses, civil asset forfeiture abuse, militarization of police, and reentry services.

The Koch brothers are part of a growing trend of Republican leaders and groups emerging as leaders in the fight against mass incarceration. Another high-profile group, the Texas-based Right on Crime, were integral to the passage of California’s three-strikes reform bill, as well as the more recent Proposition 47.

The Daily Beast’s Tim Mak has the story. Here’s a clip:

Judge Paul Cassell protested the sentence when he was forced to make it in 2004, a move he told The Daily Beast he considers “the most unjust, lengthy sentence that I had to hand down.”

At the time of the trial, Cassell noted that Angelos’ sentence exceeded the minimum required for an individual convicted of airline hijacking, detonating a bomb intended to kill bystanders, and the exploitation of a child for pornography.

Angelos is now 35 years old and has spent some 11 years behind bars.

He has more than 40 years left to go. Even though his crime was non-violent, parole is not an option at the federal level.

His only hope for relief from his sentence is an order by the president.

“If we’re going to deprive someone of liberty, and deal with the high cost of incarceration, it better solve a problem. And in this case, it doesn’t solve any problem,” argued Mark Osler, Angelos’ lawyer, who filed a clemency petition on his behalf in 2012.

This is where the Koch brothers come in.

The case is being highlighted by Koch-backed group Generation Opportunity, which targets millenials, in a broader campaign to press for criminal justice reforms this year.

They will kick off the campaign with a documentary highlighting Angelos’ predicament, premiering at Washington, D.C.’s Newseum next week.

In the same vein, Mother Jones’ Sam Brodey has a roundup of five important criminal justice issues we may see some bipartisan reform on from Congress soon, including sealing and expunging records, good time credits, and mandatory minimums. Here’s a clip:

Earned-time credits: These programs, under which prisoners can work to earn an early release by completing classes, job training, and drug rehab, are highly popular among reformers. Many states already offer them, and they’ve been touted as smart, efficient ways to reduce prison populations as well as recidivism rates. Jay Hurst, a criminal-justice lawyer and commentator at the Hill, says that this is the likeliest issue where Congress could pass legislation this year.

Easing up mandatory minimums: These laws, which broadly require those convicted of certain crimes to serve set sentences regardless of the specifics of the case, are considered hallmarks of the tough-on-crime approach politicians used to embrace. Critics, such as advocacy group Families Against the Mandatory Minimum, argue that these laws “undermine justice by preventing judges from fitting the punishment to the individual” and that they are one of the main reasons for overcrowded prisons. According to Jesselyn McCurdy, a criminal-justice expert at the American Civil Liberties Union, half of those locked up in federal prison are there for drug offenses, to which mandatory minimums are often rigorously applied.

Last January, Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) introduced the Smarter Sentencing Act, which intended to reduce the size of the prison population and rein in ballooning costs by reducing mandatory minimum sentencing, especially for drug-related crimes. Someone serving a 10-year sentence for a nonviolent crime could theoretically get out in five, under the legislation. The bill also proposed broadening judges’ discretion to sentence below federal minimums, known as the “safety valve” for oversentencing.

The Durbin-Lee bill died in committee—a common fate for criminal-justice legislation—and a total overhaul of mandatory minimums could be a tough ask for this Congress. The Senate Judiciary Committee’s new chair, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), is a vocal defender of sentencing minimums. Still, experts say there’s reason to believe some progress could get made. “Safety valve relief could happen this Congress,” Hurst said, because it’s considered a more moderate path to reducing sentences.


HOSPITAL PROGRAMS BREAKING THE CYCLE OF RETALIATORY VIOLENCE

A growing number of “hospital-based violence intervention programs,” designed to interrupt patterns of violence in kids’ lives, are cropping up in California and across the US.

These programs ensure there are tools and resources to redirect kids and teens from retaliation, when they turn up at hospitals suffering from violent injuries and traumas.

Not only are these methods successfully keeping kids and communities safer by connecting kids with therapy, job training, and other services at a pivotal moment, they are saving criminal justice systems (and hospitals) money.

Pacific Standard Magazine’s Lauren Kirchener has this story (we didn’t want you to miss). Here’s a clip:

When Joel Fein was working in the emergency room of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, treating a 16-year-old boy for injuries he had suffered in a fight, he felt truly helpless when he heard the boy say: “The guy that did this—I’m gonna cap him.” It would mean another fight, another victim of violence, and another patient in the ER. How could Fein do anything to stop the continuation—and escalation—of violence?

This helpless feeling, and this question, both eventually led Fein to his role as co-chair at a national network of “hospital-based violence intervention programs” (HVIPs) that teach health care workers how to help kids and teenagers who have undergone a trauma, and to divert their energies away from dangerous retaliation. And (not that this should be the primary goal, but) according to a new study out by Drexel University, it might save communities a lot of money, too.

The idea behind an intervention program in the hospital setting is that, while victims of violence might have other opportunities to connect with social workers or other resources at other times in their lives, the time right when they are recovering from their injuries may be the most crucial. So the people who are surrounding them at that time should be trained to help them make the right choices. The national network’s handbook for starting up a new hospital-based program reads:

The philosophy of these programs is that violence is preventable and that trauma centers and emergency rooms offer a unique opportunity at the hospital bedside—the teachable moment—to most effectively engage a victim of violence and stop the cycle of violence.

How programs actualize that philosophy will vary, but, for instance, San Francisco’s Wraparound Project assigns case managers to patients who can organize ongoing home visits or cognitive behavioral therapy, and can help patients get better access to government services. They can also point young people to vocational training and new after-school programs to occupy their time, and even to free or discounted tattoo removal—presumably so the kids can take steps to dissociate themselves from gangs.


WAREHOUSING MENTALLY ILL PRISONERS IN SOLITARY CONFINEMENT, THEN RELEASING THEM WITH A WORSENED MENTAL STATE

In the first of a four-part series for WNYC’s Morning Edition program, Cindy Rodriguez shares the tragic story of Sedlis Dowdy, a severely schizophrenic man who has spent nine years in solitary confinement (seventeen total in prison, with five to go) for violent crimes associated with his mental illness.

Dowdy was released once, at the end of his fourteenth year behind bars, but only made it a few days in transitional housing before he was locked up again for stabbing someone. He will likely be released again in five years.

Among a number of other collateral consequences of how the US uses solitary confinement, a high percentage of people held in solitary confinement are eventually going to leave prison—often with more mental problems than when they arrived. When they are released back into their communities, they take illnesses exacerbated by isolation with them. (California struggles with this problem, as do many other states.)

Here are some clips from the WNYC story:

Dowdy grew up poor in Harlem during the 70s and 80s, as the state’s mental-health system went through a wrenching transformation away from large institutions to the underfunded, underperforming system that it is today.

The illness derailed what could’ve been the story of a young man who beat the odds. Despite frequent fights and dropping out of high school, he did well on his GED and attended college at Morrisville State in central New York.

[SNIP]

…in February of 1996, he shot a man at St. Nicholas Park in Harlem.

“I didn’t even know the guy,” Dowdy said. “I couldn’t take the voices no more and they was telling me to do it.”

Dowdy’s violent crime made him an outlier: Research suggests that only 4 percent of violence in the U.S. can be attributed to the mentally ill. He was sentenced to five to 10 years but ended up serving 14 because of the serious trouble he got into. Within a 15 month period, starting in October of 1997, he became uncontrollable. The state Department of Corrections said he assaulted inmates and staff, had weapons and disobeyed direct orders. Dowdy said he was off his meds and delusional at the time.

And as he acted out, the prison responded with more punishment. Dowdy spent nine years, nearly a quarter of his life, in solitary confinement and was often only fed what’s called “the loaf,” which is a brick of baked bread and vegetables.

Experts say extreme isolation is like physical torture for someone who is mentally ill. Over the last four years, several states have scaled back their use of solitary for more vulnerable populations, including New York, which enacted a new policy last year as the result of a lawsuit.

Dowdy’s situation got so bad, he took to throwing feces on guards. He was prosecuted for it and got four extra years added to his sentence. Soon, according to Dowdy, punishment turned into brutality by guards. He described guards beating him, putting glass in his food and trying to break his legs.

“At the time I was just so angry I didn’t know what to do,” he explained. “And nobody was listening to me, so I would come out of my cell and not go back in.”

When asked about the abuse, the state Department of Corrections said records show Dowdy spent nine months on the loaf and in 2000 was the subject of one excessive use of force report complaint, the details of which were lost when the agency changed computer systems.

The environment inside prisons and jails is known to exacerbate mental illness, making treatment that much more difficult to deliver.

“The more chaotic the environment, the harder it is for somebody who is already having trouble organizing their thoughts and organizing their behavior to deal with it,“ said Dr. Paul Appelbaum, a forensic psychiatrist at Columbia University.


UPCOMING CALIFORNIA BILLS TO TARGET UNCHECKED OVERPRESCRIBING OF PSYCHOTROPIC MEDS FOR FOSTER KIDS

Karen de Sá’s alarming five-part investigative series for the San Jose Mercury exposed the excessive use of psychotropic medications to treat California kids in the foster care system. Last year, the Department of Health Care Services tightened restrictions on how doctors prescribe these meds to kids in the foster care system, as a result of the exposé.

This year a number of California bills are in the works to protect foster kids from dangerous over-medication.

One bill would allow kids to receive alternate treatments to certain psych drugs. Another would provide training to foster parents regarding psychotropic prescriptions.

San Jose Mercury’s Karen de Sá has more on the issue, as well as a rundown on the rest of the upcoming bills. Here’s a clip:

With a half dozen legislators exploring bills, de León’s staff has been working behind the scenes, attending meetings of a statewide reform group and meeting with advocates led by the Oakland-based National Center for Youth Law and lawmakers considering bills.

“When the government takes the extraordinary step of removing a child from their families because of abuse or neglect, it assumes the tremendous responsibility of ensuring they are cared for and not further abused or neglected by the system,” de León said in an email.

This newspaper’s series “on the overprescribing of psychotropic medications has shed a spotlight on a deeply troubling aspect of the system,” de León said. “The Senate will be investigating the plight of the adolescents highlighted in these articles, as well as foster children generally.”

[SNIP]

Lawmakers, including state Sens. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, and Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, and Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, have each submitted early language to the Legislative Counsel’s Office, their staff members confirmed. Other bills that address prescribing psychotropics in group homes are also in the early stages.

The influential California Welfare Directors Association is working with Mitchell’s office on legislation that would provide more information to judges, social workers and others in the lives of foster children about their medication and treatment history. That information would give judges who authorize medications more than just a prescriber’s recommendation. It would include observations from social workers, caregivers and the children themselves.

“We’ve been very concerned about making sure that only kids who really need these drugs are getting them,” said Frank Mecca, the welfare director association’s executive director.

Yet, opposition has already surfaced over the state Department of Health Care Services’ decision last fall to require that doctors receive extra authorization to prescribe antipsychotics to children 18 and younger in the public health system…

Hop over to the SJ Mercury for the rest of the story.

Posted in Foster Care, juvenile justice, Mental Illness, prison, Reentry, Rehabilitation, Right on Crime, Sentencing, Trauma, Violence Prevention | No Comments »

LA Supes Finally Approve 2 Foster Care Fixes….Can SF’s Community Court Halt the Revolving Door?….NYC Bans Solitary for Inmates Under 21….More on the “End of Gangs…..and the Pain of Losing Al Martinez

January 14th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


AFTER MUCH STALLING BY THE OLD BOARD, THE NEW LA BOARD OF SUPES QUICKLY MAKES 2 NEW FOSTER CARE FIXES

It looks like those two new members added to the LA County Board of Supervisors have changed the mix enough to make a big difference when it comes to social issues. (Let’s hope it continues.)

To wit: On Tuesday, the board added two important–-and long-stalled—safeguards to the child welfare system.

The LA Times’ Garrett Therolf has the story. Here’s a clip:

After a year of stalled efforts to address breakdowns in Los Angeles County’s child protection system, the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday adopted two key recommendations of a blue ribbon commission established in the aftermath of a beating death of an 8-year-old Palmdale boy.

In what is believed to be the nation’s first program, the board voted unanimously to pair public health nurses with social workers to investigate every allegation of abuse involving children younger than 2, an age group identified as being the most at risk of fatalities from mistreatment.

The public health nurses will help medical and child welfare workers evaluate children and determine whether they are in danger of abuse or need immediate medical attention. Deploying the additional personnel is expected to cost $8 million annually.

Supervisors said they hope the nurses will help connect families with needed child healthcare and keep families together when appropriate. Initially, the nurses will be added to two child welfare offices serving areas in and around South Los Angeles.

Lack of adequate medical evaluations have been tied to some child fatalities in recent years. In 2008, 2-year-old Isabel Garcia starved to death — two months after social workers visited her and wrote that she appeared healthy, despite the toddler’s sharp weight loss.

The board also moved forward with a recommendation to ensure that children are taken to specialized county medical clinics for health screenings when a nurse in the field deems it medically necessary. The clinics are equipped with sophisticated equipment and staff trained to detect and document child abuse. To accommodate the increased health screening, the county is spending $2 million on additional clinic staff.

“The time is now to move on the blue ribbon commission’s recommendations. The protection and well-being of children in our care should always be top priority,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who co-sponsored the motion with Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.

Now if the board will keep up the good work and move on the rest of the Blue Ribbon Committee’s recommendations, most notabley the hiring of a child welfare czar.

(cough) Judge Michael Nash (cough, cough)


SAN FRANCISCO TURNS TO COMMUNITY COURT TO BREAK THE INCARCERATION CYCLE

With a U.S. incarceration rate that increased more than seven-fold between 1980 to 2010, and national recidivism rates at 67.8 percent (and far higher for drug offenders), some of the nation’s more forward-looking communities have been turning to alternative forms of justice such as community courts as a means to stop the revolving door that keeps many low-level offenders cycling in and out of jail or prison.

But do such strategies work?

Community courts have many of the same purposes as regular criminal courts: reducing crime, protecting public safety, and ensuring due process. But unlike most criminal courts, community courts are particularly focused on improving outcomes for offenders by addressing some of the key factors that often underlie certain kinds of criminal behavior—-things like mental and emotional health issues, unemployment, substance abuse, and an unstable home situation.

With such variables in mind, the community courts attempt to match services—not just sanctions—with offenders.

The first community court opened its doors in the U.S. in 1991, in New York City. Now there are more than three dozen such courts in the nation.

California’s two main community courts are located in Orange County and in San Francisco.

San Francisco’s community court, which is known as the Community Justice Center (or CJC), opened in 2009 in the Tenderloin.

Those involved with the court believed from the beginning that they were seeing a drop in recidivism among the CJC’s clients. But were they really?

“Success can be hard to measure in community courts,” writes the Christian Science Monitor’s Henry Gass in a story that looks at the emerging national trend. “The most common criticism leveled against the community court system is that it is often unable to prevent relapses into criminal behavior….”

As a consequence, he writes, “criminal-justice researchers are trying to put together solid statistical evidence of how community courts are performing.”

With this in mind, the RAND corporation decided to take a statistical look at whether or not the CJC really cut the likelihood of returning to the criminal justice system.

RAND researchers analyzed approximately 10,000 cases involving 6,000 defendants that the court heard from its opening in March 2009, through December 2013. When matching the CJC offenders with a control population, they did their best to compare apples with apples, by looking at those who committed similar offenses in the same general geographic area, but before CJC opened. They also looked at those who committed similar offenses after CJC came along in 2009 but who, for some reason, didn’t get funnelled to community court.

The results were published in late 2014 and they were extremely encouraging. They showed that those tried in SF’s Community Justice Center were 8.9 to 10.3 percent less likely to be rearrested within a year than those non-CJC offenders tried in convention court. Over time, the stats got even better. It turned out that the likelihood of not being rearrested rose the longer the CJC people were out. Whereas for those tried in regular courts, the opposite was true; they were more likely to reoffend as time passed.

So why did SF community court system work? One of the study’s authors, Jesse Sussell, said that he and his co-author, Beau Kilmer, weren’t 100 percent sure how to answer that question.

“Policymakers in the United States are aware of the enormous potential gains to be had from reducing recidivism,” he wrote in a paper for Social Policy Research Associates. “They also know that the status quo approach for handling offenders has done a poor job of preventing re-offense…”

But as to why CJC having a better effect?

“We still don’t know precisely why the San Francisco CJC appears to reduce recidivism,” Sussell admitted. But he thought the fact that the program wasn’t a one size fits all system might have something to do with it. “The CJC itself is really a collection of interventions,” he said. “A suite of services,”—some to address addiction, others to address homelessness and other situational problems, and so on.

The court was also speedy, Sussell noted. “Community court participants are also ordered to report to the court much sooner following initial arrest (about one week) than are offenders processed by the traditional court (a month or more).”

Bottom line, the RAND researchers found the study’s results to be very promising, but they’d like to now drill down a bit and look at “the relative contributions of these different program components.”

Sounds fine to us.


NEW YORK CITY BANS SOLITARY FOR INMATES 21 OR UNDER AT RIKERS

In a move that startled many, members of New York City’s board of corrections voted on Tuesday—7-0—to eliminate the use of solitary confinement for all inmates 21 and younger, a move that it is hoped would place the city’s long-troubled Rikers Island complex at the forefront of national jail reform efforts.

Los Angeles County has yet to come close to such a sweeping decision—although in the last few years it has greatly reduced its dependence on solitary confinement in response to a raft of public criticism by juvenile justice advocates.

Michael Winerip and Michael Schwirtz have the story for the New York Times on Tuesday’s policy change.

Here’s a clip:

The policy change was a stark turnaround by the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio [whose corrections guy supported the surprise move], which recently eliminated the use of solitary confinement for 16- and 17-year-olds but, backed by the powerful correction officers union, had resisted curtailing the practice more broadly.

Even the most innovative jails in the country punish disruptive inmates over age 18 with solitary confinement, said Christine Herrman, director of the Segregation Reduction Project at the Vera Institute of Justice. “I’ve never heard of anything like that happening anywhere else,” she said, referring to the New York City plan. “It would definitely be an innovation.”

The Correction Department has faced repeated criticism over the past year after revelations of horrific brutality and neglect of inmates at Rikers, the country’s second-largest jail system. Preet Bharara, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, is suing the city over the treatment of adolescent inmates at the jail complex.

[SNIP]

A large body of scientific research indicates that solitary confinement is particularly damaging to adolescents and young adults because their brains are still developing. Prolonged isolation in solitary cells can worsen mental illness and in some cases cause it, studies have shown.

Inmates in solitary confinement at Rikers are locked in their cells for 23 hours a day, with one hour of recreation, which they spend by themselves in a small caged area outdoors. A report published in August by Mr. Bharara’s office described the use of solitary cells for young people at Rikers as “excessive and inappropriate.” Inmates can be locked away for weeks and months and, in some cases, even over a year.

As of Jan. 9, according to recently released city data, there were 497 inmates between ages 19 and 21 at Rikers, with 103 of them held in solitary confinement.

“The majority of inmates in the 18- to 21-year-old cohort are young men of color whom we presume innocent under our laws because they are awaiting trial,” said Bryanne Hamill, one of the board’s strongest voices for eliminating solitary for young inmates. “The evidence showed that solitary confinement will not improve their future behavior, but will reliably convert anger and frustration today into rage and violence tomorrow.”

The president of NYC’s 9,000-member correction officers’ union, Norman Seabrook, said the plan would endanger correction officers by leading to more inmate attacks. Seabrook told the NYT that he planned sue the board for every guard assaulted.


SAM QUINONES ON “DEADLINE LA” TALKING ABOUT DRAMATIC REDUCTIONS IN GANG CRIME

For those of you who were interested in the discussion that resulted from Sam Quinones’ story for Pacific Standard magazine, provocatively titled “The End of Gangs,” you’ll likely enjoy listening to the podcast of Monday’s Deadline LA on KPFK, featuring Barbara Osborn and Howard Blume interviewing Quinones about whether or not the gangs are disappearing from LA’s streets and, if so, why.

As you may remember, Quinones’ story is thought-provoking and deeply reported, but also controversial.

For instance, we still find his analysis far too law-enforcement centric. And it has made gang experts nuts that, in discussing the gangs’ lessened grip on day to day life in our urban neighborhoods, his story completely left out the essential role played by non-profit programs that offer jobs and other crucial support to former gang members, plus the powerful effect of grassroots community involvement, along with a host of other factors that have contributed to the drop in gang crime.

Yet, all that said, Osborn and Blume ask some great questions. And Quinones’ highly informed answers having to do with the measurable successes gained by policing “smarter, not harder,” along with the LAPD’s brass enlightened move some years ago to treat the most violence-afflicted communities they police as partners, not adversaries—and other intriguing topics regarding the world of cops and gangs—are very much worth your time.

So, listen. Okay? Okay.


THE PAIN OF LOSING AL MARTINEZ

Al Martinez, LA’s glorious storyteller, our city’s bard, as the Huntington Library called him, our deeply humanistic, gloriously poetic and wildly funny chronicler of the zillion extraordinary and ordinary facets of life in Southern California, has left us.

Martinez died Monday at West Hills Hospital of congestive heart failure, said his wife, Joanne, when she called LA Observed’s Kevin Roderick, for whom Al wrote his last columns. He was 85 and had been suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Al wrote for the LA Times for 38 years—most notably as a columnist—before stupid management decisions forced him out during the worst of the Times’ staff purges, first once, then again. (After panicking at the furious response from readers, the Times rehired him after the first push out in 2007.)

Yet, the ongoing demand for his unique voice was such that Martinez easily placed his columns elsewhere after he parted with the Times, LA Observed being his last home.

He also wrote a string of non-fiction books, a novel and, since this is LA, after all, he wrote occasionally for television, when it suited him.

The LAT’s Valerie Nelson has a lovely obit on Martinez, and Roderick writes about his friend and columnist here, plus Al’s longtime friend and colleague, Bill Boyarsky writes his own tribute, “The Storyteller Exits.”

PS: Al settled himself and his family in Topanga Canyon when he moved to Southern California in the early 1970s. Thus, we who also make Topanga our home always felt that LA’s fabulously gifted teller-of-stories belonged to us personally. We understood we couldn’t keep him forever. Yet, losing him still seems unimaginable.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, gender, law enforcement, Life in general, Los Angeles writers, Police, Public Health, race, race and class, racial justice, School to Prison Pipeline, solitary, Violence Prevention, writers and writing, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 9 Comments »

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

January 6th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



THE END OF GANGS—THAT WASN’T.

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

Here’s a clip from Quinones’ story:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


ARE GANGS GONE?

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

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

Now gangs are all about business.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


WHAT ABOUT GANG VIOLENCE AND COMMUNITY SAFETY? THE TRAUMA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the damage that is still being done.

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

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

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

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