Thursday, November 26, 2015
street news, views and stories of justice and injustice
Follow me on Twitter

Search WitnessLA:

Recent Posts





Trauma Lawsuit Against Compton School District, Drugging Foster Kids, the Brown Act-violating Jail Vote, and California’s New Resident Wolves

August 21st, 2015 by Taylor Walker


On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Michael Fitzgerald heard arguments in a potentially precedent-setting suit against Compton Unified School District for failing to help severely traumatized kids struggling with learning.

The lawsuit filed by Public Counsel and Irell & Manella LLP in May, alleges that Compton schools, instead of treating trauma as a disability, respond to traumatized kids by suspending, expelling, and sending them to different schools. The lawsuit on behalf of eight Compton students alleges these practices are in violation of federal law.

If Judge Fitzgerald grants the injunction, the school district would have to provide training for teachers, mental health services for students, and employ conflict-resolution as a first line of action before considering suspension.

A decision in favor of the young plaintiffs could also have a ripple effect on schools across the country.

Compton Unified’s attorney, David Huff, argues that the suit could have the effect giving all of Compton’s students a disability designation just because of where they live.

(Go here for WLA’s previous reporting on this lawsuit.)

NPR’s Cory Turner has the story. Here’s a clip:

Susan Ko of the National Center for Child Traumatic Stress says exposure to violence can have a profound effect on the brain’s ability to learn.

“That impacts concentration, the ability to just listen to what the teacher is saying, to understand what you’re reading, to remember something that you learned or what the teacher just said,” Ko says.

Not only that, many traumatized students live in a state of constant alarm. Innocent interactions like a bump in the hallway or a request from a teacher can stir anger and bad behavior.

The lawsuit alleges that, in Compton, the schools’ reaction to traumatized students was too often punishment — not help.

“They were repeatedly either sent to another school, expelled or suspended — and this went back to kindergarten,” says Marleen Wong, who teaches at the USC School of Social Work and has spent decades studying kids and trauma. “I think we’re really doing a terrible disservice to these children.”

The suit argues that trauma is a disability and that schools are required — by federal law — to make accommodations for traumatized students, not expel them.

The LA Times’ Stephen Caesar also reported on this issue.


A California bill would have mandated oversight of the prescribing of psychotropic medications to foster kids, giving current public health nurses power to monitor the kids, and paying for 38 new public health nurses across CA’s 58 counties.

The bill likely would have been a meaningful step forward in addressing a serious breakdown in foster kids’ mental health care, (uncovered in Karen de Sá’s invaluable investigative series for the San Jose Mercury News, “Drugging Our Kids“) that is, until its author Senator Jim Beall had to strip it of nearly all of its power in the hopes of getting it past budget hawks.

Implementation would have cost $5 million in the first year, and up to $10 million per year, thereafter.

Because Sen. Beall cut the funding out of the bill to give it a chance in the Assembly Appropriations Committee, nurse oversight is no longer be mandatory: counties can choose to opt in (or not) and will have to cough up the money if they want to participate.

Unfortunately, according to National Center for Youth Law’s Anna Johnson, “If you want monitoring to happen, you have to mandate it.”

Contra Costa Times’ Josh Richman has the story. Here’s a clip:

“Appropriations committees are usually the highest hurdle you have to jump over … second perhaps only to the governor’s signature,” Beall, D-San Jose, said later Wednesday. “We’re going to get the bill on the governor’s desk.”

Beall’s SB 319 is one of four pending bills inspired by the Bay Area News Group’s investigative series “Drugging Our Kids,” which revealed that nearly 1 in 4 foster care teens takes psychiatric drugs.

The drugs are often used to control behavior, not to treat mental illnesses. Most of those on the drugs are prescribed antipsychotics, a powerful class of medication that have the most harmful side effects.

The bill still would give public health nurses the authority to get foster youth’s medical records from social workers and prescribing doctors, Beall said, even though it won’t be required. Almost all of the state’s largest counties will do so, he predicted, and he can use his seats on the Senate Budget and Appropriations committees to revisit funding for more nurses and perhaps a statewide mandate in next year’s budget talks.

Still, foster-youth advocates were disappointed.

The Oakland-based National Center for Youth Law sponsored SB 319, and center policy analyst Anna Johnson testified on its behalf Wednesday. Afterward, she said the state’s refusal to spend any money on this is especially disappointing because the federal government would pay 75 percent of the bill.

“If you want monitoring to happen, you have to mandate it” as many other states have, she said. Refusing to do so means “we’re happy with passing that cost on to foster children’s bodies” by “taking a big risk that children will continue to not be monitored on these medications, whether they’re medically necessary or not.”


Last week, LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey sent a letter confronting the Board of Supervisors about violating the Ralph M. Brown Act when they voted on a proposed amendment to a large-scale plan to divert mentally ill from county jails last Tuesday.

Because the board agenda did not mention there would be a discussion or vote on the jail construction, the vote did not honor the public’s guaranteed right to attend and participate in meetings of local government bodies.

The LA Times’ editorial board says that even though the Supes remedied the improper vote by recalendaring it, the move doesn’t do anything to solve the public trust issue the first vote created. Here’s a clip:

Then, without prior notice, they proceeded to discuss and adopt a separate plan to downsize a facility to replace the dungeon-like Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles and to move ahead with construction of a women’s jail in the Antelope Valley. They offered this ludicrous explanation: The proper jail size depended on the number of people they could divert, so the agenda item on diversion programs and funding necessarily provided the public adequate notice that they would also take up and vote on the controversial multibillion-dollar public works projects.

The true reason for trying to shoehorn in the jails vote? It might be that they had just discovered that state officials were serious about a looming deadline to apply for construction funding, and that they were going to miss it because of their inattentiveness; or that properly calendaring the item for a later meeting would interfere with their vacation plans; or that providing legally adequate notice would raise too much of a public ruckus; or all of the above.

Some county officials also reasoned, after the fact, that anyone who cared about jails also cared about diversion, and therefore was already in the room and received their (very short) notice in real time.

But the purpose of public notice requirements isn’t solely to allow people to show up at board meetings to offer comments, especially in a county of 10 million residents. Only a small slice of the public weighs in that way. Others voice their opinions by calling, emailing, organizing, lobbying or arguing in advance of a major decision affecting them — if they know, as the law entitles them to know, when that decision is to be made. And when push comes to shove, taxpayers and other members of the public have every right to know what their elected representatives are doing, whether they plan to weigh in or not.


A new pack of gray wolves, called the Shasta Pack by wildlife officials, has appeared in California. The two adult wolves and five pups, captured on a trail camera, are the first resident pack in CA in decades.

In 2011, a lone gray wolf, OR-7, made news as the first wolf in California since 1924 when he crossed the border from Oregon. OR-7 now lives with his pack just over the Oregon border.

Here’s what the CA Department of Fish and Wildlife has to say about the new pack:

Wild wolves historically inhabited California, but were extirpated. Aside from these wolves and the famous wolf OR7 who entered California in December 2011, the last confirmed wolf in the state was here in 1924. OR7 has not been in California for more than a year and is currently the breeding male of the Rogue Pack in southern Oregon.

In June 2014, the California Fish and Game Commission voted to list gray wolves as endangered under the California Endangered Species Act. The gray wolf is also listed as endangered in California, under the Federal Endangered Species Act of 1973. Gray wolves that enter California are therefore protected by the ESA making it illegal to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture or collect wolves, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct in California.

CDFW is completing a Draft Wolf Management Plan and will release it soon.

LA Observed’s Kevin Roderick who has been following the California wolf saga for years has the story.

Posted in District Attorney, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, mental health, Trauma, wolves | 7 Comments »

Screening ACEs in New Places, Salinas High Cuts Suspensions by 70%, and Wolves

August 4th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


The 1997 Adverse Childhood Experiences study, by Vincent Felitti and Robert Anda, examined the long-term health effects trauma (ACEs)—like abuse, neglect, and divorce—have on kids.

The study includes an ACEs screening questionnaire, which has become the benchmark for measuring childhood trauma. The quiz produces an ACEs score based upon how many times a person answers “yes” to the ten questions.

As the use of the ACEs test spreads from its original pediatrics setting, to schools and the juvenile justice system, some say unintended complications will undoubtedly arise.

Major training is required before an ACEs screening system can be implemented, according to experts. And schools and juvenile facilities have to be careful about what questions they ask kids because of mandatory reporting laws. Problems can arise if a child answers “yes” to the abuse-related questions, for instance, and the test administrator isn’t trained to do further appropriate questioning, but follows the mandatory reporting laws requiring the involvement of child protective services. This would likely result in the unnecessary splitting up of families if there has been a bad experience or bad conditions in the home, but the family is otherwise loving and reasonably stable.

Some of the questions can be tweaked and posed to parents, however, to get more of an overview of a child’s wellbeing while staying away from the questions that trigger mandatory reporting.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Jeremy Loudenback has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

“Before you ask these [ACEs] questions, you have to have a plan of action when the answer is yes,” said Blodgett. “Screening for trauma is more dicey where you get into education settings, where there’s a big conversation around this right now.”

“Most schools don’t have the capacity to figure out how to respond if there are identified ACEs,” he said. “These systems weren’t designed as identification and treatment systems. That’s when issues about potentially increased reporting become much more serious.”

For Robert Anda, a co-author of the influential 1997 ACEs study, the ACEs questionnaire is more about taking a public health approach than a tool for mandatory reporting. In screening parents, he suggests that other measures could be developed to measure risk of maltreatment without compelling pediatricians to turn to child protective services.

“ACEs can be measured safely in parents to give you an index of what may be a risk for the parents and the whole family and the child,” said Anda in an interview The Chronicle of Social Change at the One Child, Many Hands conference earlier this year at the University of Pennsylvania. “You can get other indirect measures that aren’t going to [lead to] mandatory reporting, including, I think, measuring some of the developmental functions as a proxy and stay away from the mandatory reporting.”

“We have to dig deeper and say ‘what’s going on,’ before making a decision about adjudication.”

The Center for Youth Wellness has spearheaded the use of ACEs screening tools in its pediatric clinic in the Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood of San Francisco. The California Department of Justice has looked toward the center as a model in creating its statewide trauma screening efforts, according to staff in the office of California Attorney General Harris.

The center uses the 10 questions from the original ACEs study, but has also added seven more factors that contribute to toxic stress for the low-income population served by the clinic, including homelessness, involvement in the foster care system, community violence and discrimination, among others.

But the Center for Youth Wellness’s Cecilia Chen cautions that the tool that the center uses is only designed for a specific context.

“Our screening tool is designed to be used by pediatric health care professionals,” said Chen, interim director of policy at the center. “We don’t advocate for its use in the juvenile justice and education systems. Tools don’t always translate across different sectors, and we really don’t know what the unintended consequences would be in other settings.”

Since the center has been using the ACEs tool, it has not seen an increase of children reported to child protective services, Chen said. But even in a pediatric setting, she says, training is necessary to administer ACEs and not jump to conclusions after reviewing the results.


By replacing harsh school discipline with the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) program, the number of suspensions at Salinas High School has dropped by 70% in just two years.

Salinas High has used money allocated for disadvantaged kids to hire a full-time intervention specialist to run the PBIS program, which teaches expectations for behavior to kids just like a regular school subject.

PBIS has been such a huge success at the school that Juan Govea, a Salinas biology teacher, traveled to the White House to talk about its implementation and results at a round table discussion on school discipline.

The Californian’s Roberto Robledo has the story of Salinas’ High’s turnaround and ongoing success. Here’s a clip:

Govea was invited to the roundtable based on a previous fellowship he received and the contacts he’d made. He was not an official representative of the Salinas Union High School District. He made the trip to share the huge steps Salinas High is making in student discipline.

“They asked me to take part so they could get a teacher’s perspective. Everybody else there was an administrator or some other capacity at a school district,” Govea said Thursday in an interview.

To subsequent applause, he told the gathering that in the two years since a new behavior program was installed, Salinas High has cut its suspension rate by a whopping 70 percent.

“It’s significant when you know that the kids being suspended — typically English Learners, male, minorities — need as much school time as possible. So when they’re losing it to suspension that puts them at an even greater disadvantage,” he said.

“That 70 percent is now getting a more positive based reinforcement. It allows us to then focus on that 30 percent that is a little bit tougher.”

The Salinas district has adopted the Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports program, which reinforces the rules of behavior and the importance of following them.

“As teachers we identify the kids who need intervention. Brief class lessons during the day reinforce the rules — why tardiness is bad, why not following the dress code is bad,” Govea said.

PBIS succeeds at Salinas High with an intervention specialist working full-time to manage the program, and who gathers a team with teachers, staff, vice principal, counselors. It’s a huge undertaking, Govea said. But the school wisely used funding through the new Local Control Funding Formula to create the full-time focus on PBIS.

One of the positive outcomes Govea has seen is “showing assistant principals how harmful suspensions are for students.” Rather than using suspensions as a first course of action, “how do we address it without putting a shackle on their leg?”


A lone gray wolf appears to be moving through Siskiyou County, says the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. (Note: this is not the beloved OR-7 who made news as the first wolf in California since 1924 when he crossed the border from Oregon four years ago.)

The LA Times’ Julie Cart has the story. Here’s a clip:

Officials said that earlier this summer they began receiving reports of sightings of a large, dark-furred animal. Wildlife authorities set up trail cameras in an effort to catch a glimpse of the animal.

In early May, images from those cameras showed a large, dark, single animal.

In June, a state biologist found tracks believed to be that of a wolf. Cameras placed at that location yielded images of a ‘large, dark-colored canid’ on July 24.

Posted in ACEs, wolves, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

Post-Primary Election News Roundup, TEDx Talks on Education at Ironwood State Prison, WLA on KCRW’s Press Play at 1:00p.m., and Wolves

June 5th, 2014 by Taylor Walker


On Tuesday night, after the June primary results rolled in, LA Weekly’s Gene Maddaus attended LA sheriff frontrunner Jim McDonnell’s election night party. (If you missed the results, McDonnell just missed the 50.1% of votes needed to win the primary election, coming in at 49.15—about 35% ahead of the second highest candidate, Paul Tanaka.)

Maddaus also tried to attend Paul Tanaka’s party at a restaurant called “Cherrystones” in Gardena. Surprisingly, Maddaus was promptly kicked out and informed that the media were not allowed at the function, and that he was “trespassing.”

Here are some clips from Maddaus’ post-primary story:

McDonnell presented himself as an outsider who had the experience to clean up the scandals that have plagued the department under Sheriff Lee Baca, who was forced to resign in January. That message appeared to resonate with voters.

“They want a fresh start,” McDonnell told his supporters at his election night party at the J.W. Marriott Hotel in downtown L.A. “They want the Sheriff’s Department to reach its full potential, to put the shine back on the badge again.”

Steve Barkan, McDonnell’s strategist, said the results “significantly exceeded” his expectations. Based on internal polls, he believed McDonnell would finish in the mid- to high-30s. The polling also suggested that Tanaka would finish a stronger second.


Tanaka barred the media from attending his election night celebration. The Weekly was thrown out of the event, at Cherrystones restaurant in Gardena, within two minutes of arriving.

“It’s a private party. What else do we need to explain?” said one Tanaka supporter.

“You’re trespassing,” said another, who identified himself only as a Marine combat veteran.

Ed Chen, Tanaka’s campaign manager, said the party was a “very intimate” event, and that Tanaka’s supporters were being “protective” of him. Later on, some members of the press were escorted into the restaurant for brief interviews or photos, and then escorted out.

Maddaus also appeared on KCRW’s Which Way, LA? with Warren Olney to discuss the sheriff election results.

And although LASD whistleblower Bob Olmsted came in third place with 9.89%, he played an important role by helping jumpstart reform and make a new sheriff possible.

Here’s a clip from Olmsted’s thank you letter to his supporters:

From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank you for everything you’ve done in this campaign.

While we didn’t come out on top, we nonetheless changed the conversation, drove the debates about the issues, and forced candidates to take positions on reform policies that they wouldn’t have otherwise.

Most importantly, we were instrumental in exposing the corruption occurring in the Department which led to the dismissal of disgraced former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka and the resignation of Sheriff Lee Baca.


There are still about 150,000 mail-in ballots left to count, according to the County Registrar. This means that there is still a—very—small chance that McDonnell will make it over the 50.1% mark and be named sheriff. (We’ll keep you updated, of course.)

The LA Daily News’ Thomas Himes has the story. Here’s a clip:

McDonnell handily won Tuesday’s primary, claiming 49.15 percent compared to the former undersheriff’s 14.74 percent, but he’s still short of the 50 percent plus 1 vote majority needed to end the election and name him sheriff.

But the Los Angeles County registrar still needs to count an estimated 148,680 mail ballots that were received on election day or handed in at the polls — 537,346 votes are already decided in the race.

Anticipating that McDonnell won’t reach 50 percent, Tanaka’s campaign is gearing up for a second matchup in the fall.

“This campaign is far from over; in fact, it has just begun,” Tanaka said. “We always knew this would be a two-phase race, and we start again today.”

McDonnell also is assuming he won’t pass the threshold.

“While I’m hopeful, I’m preparing for a runoff in November,” he said in a telephone interview Wednesday.


On May 10, a TEDx event at California’s Ironwood State Prison (the first TED event inside a prison) emphasized the power of prison education programs to reduce recidivism and provide better outcomes for former offenders reentering their communities. Speakers included inmates in Ironwood’s education program, prison staff, and advocates like Hangover producer and Anti-Recidivism Coalition founder Scott Budnick and Virgin Group founder, Sir Richard Branson.

Here are some clips from Budnick’s story on TEDxIronwood for the Huffington Post:

Picture driving on a desolate two-lane road, past one low flat building after another, before seeing the tall steel fences and razor wire that signal your destination: a maximum security prison, blazing hot, in the middle of the desert, not far from the border between California and Arizona, an hour past the sunny vacation destination of Palm Springs. After several checks of your identification and passing through multiple sets of sliding steel gates, you’re directed down a long sidewalk with an empty yard on one side and concrete buildings on the other. It’s eerily quiet, though you know 3,280 men live here in a space built for 2,200.

But inside these concrete buildings, something extraordinary is happening. The largest prison education program in California is thriving at Ironwood State Prison, where men are transcribing college textbooks into Braille, learning trade skills and where an astonishing 1200+ students have earned college degrees.


TEDx Ironwood elevated the importance of correctional education. Actors, musicians, activists, foundation leaders and even Sir Richard Branson, Founder of the Virgin Group, found their way to Ironwood, where a prison gym was transformed into a sound stage with lights, cameras, microphones and chairs for 150 men who are incarcerated at Ironwood and 150 visitors in attendance. And who most impressed the audience? The incarcerated, who coordinated, hosted and spoke on a theme they called, Infinite Possibilities.

The event highlighted the fact that correctional education programs have been shown to save dollars and greatly decrease recidivism rates, which means they increase public safety. In California, 95 percent of incarcerated individuals are released from prison, and two thirds of them end up behind bars again. The men advocated that it’s smarter to use education to give those who are released the best possible shot at a second chance. I’ve seen this through my own work with the InsideOUT Writers program, through which incarcerated young people are given the opportunity to use creative writing as a catalyst for personal transformation. And we welcome these men and woman home and into colleges and Universities, through our organization, The Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC).

(Read Branson’s blog post about his TEDxIronwood experience, here.)

Douglas Wood, a program officer for the Ford Foundation’s Higher Education for Social Justice initiative, had some interesting things to say about the school-to-prison pipeline and why prison education is so crucial. Here’s his TEDx Talk:

Here are a couple of other Ironwood talks that shouldn’t be missed:


WitnessLA’s editor, Celeste Fremon, will be on the Madeleine Brand show, Press Play, today at 1:00p.m. to discuss the sheriff election results and the second federal obstruction of justice trial.


It has been confirmed that OR-7 (the Oregon gray wolf who made history as the first wolf in California since 1924 when he wandered across the state line from Oregon) has finally mated and sired at least two pups in Oregon, near the border.

On Wednesday, the California Fish and Game Commission voted in favor of listing the gray wolf as an endangered species, which will protect OR-7 and his new pack, along with any future migrating wolves. (Hooray!)

KQED’s Lauren Sommer has the story (and a very cute photo of wolf pups courtesy US Fish and Wildlife). Here’s a clip:

While no wolves are known to be in California currently, the state was thrust into the debate when a lone, radio-collared wolf known as OR7 wandered across the Oregon-California border in 2011, becoming California’s first wolf since the 1920s. OR7 has since returned to Oregon and earlier this year was spotted with a possible mate.

Just as public testimony ramped up at the commission meeting on Wednesday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confirmed that OR7 and a mate have produced at least two pups in southwest Oregon, the first litter observed since wolves returned to that area.

The new pack raises the odds that wolves will expand into California.

“We expect that in a decade or less there will be wolf populations in California,” said Chuck Bonham, the director of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. “That is nature taking its course. They are migrating across the West and from the Northwest, south.”

Posted in Education, LASD, Paul Tanaka, prison, Reentry, Rehabilitation, School to Prison Pipeline, Sheriff Lee Baca, wolves | 10 Comments »

LASD Deputy James Sexton Trial: Day One, Cities Reconsidering Banning Ex-Inmates from Public Housing, Oregon Reduces Recidivism with Parent Training, and Wolves

May 14th, 2014 by Taylor Walker


Trial began Tuesday for L.A. County Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton, who is one of seven LASD officers accused of conspiracy to obstruct justice by allegedly hiding federal informant Anthony Brown from the FBI. (Backstory here.)

KPCC’s Rina Palta has a good rundown on Tuesday’s happenings. (And we at WLA will have more as the trial moves forward.)

Here’s a clip:

Federal prosecutors say Deputy James Sexton hid a jail inmate working as an FBI informant from federal investigators, moving him from jail to jail under fake names, and was part of a conspiracy to try to intimidate an FBI agent by showing up at her home and threatening her with arrest.

Defense attorneys, meanwhile, argue the FBI’s “well meaning but poorly planned” jails investigation sparked a turf war between the federal agency and the local sheriff’s department, and Sexton was a bit player in a game between high powered law enforcement agencies.

Sexton’s charges for conspiracy and obstruction of justice stem from a 2011 incident.

In her opening statement, Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Rhodes said members of the sheriff’s department working in Men’s Central Jail found a cell phone in inmate Anthony Brown’s jail cell on August 18, 2011. From there, they figured out that the FBI had provided Brown with that phone — and that he was working as an informant for the federal government.

Immediately, the group of deputies and their lieutenant began a campaign to “shut down” the federal investigation, Rhodes said.

“Now they started down the road to obstructing justice,” Rhodes said…

Read on.


A new Wall Street Journal article draws attention to the issue of banning former inmates from public housing on both the city and federal levels.

As efforts to lower recidivism by increasing rehabilitation and re-entry services for those returning to their communities, Los Angeles, New York, and housing authorities in other cities are beginning to consider and test programs to allow certain low-level offenders to access public housing.

The Wall Street Journal story by Matt Peters is behind a paywall. Here are some of the relevant clips, for those who don’t subscribe:

Most ex-convicts are locked out of public housing when released, a vestige of “one strike and you’re out” approaches that rose to prominence in the 1990s as housing authorities reeled from rampant crime and mismanagement. Housing officials said some families have long allowed ex-offenders to move into public housing illegally, while others see the risk of losing their apartments as too great.

But now, as crime rates across the U.S. have declined and many of the most notorious housing projects were torn down, an increased focus is being put on the buildup of prison populations and how the barriers ex-offenders face upon release may feed high rates of unemployment, homelessness and recidivism.

While comparative data on the situation among ex-convicts before such housing bans became prevalent and now are almost nonexistent, housing advocates increasingly are looking at the connections between homelessness and incarceration. New York department of corrections data, for example, show 22% of inmates from New York City paroled last year from state prison listed a homeless shelter as their first address. And a recent federal study tracking 405,000 prisoners in 30 states found two-thirds were arrested for a new crime within three years of release.

Encouraged by federal housing officials, Chicago and other large cities are starting to rethink the restrictions. The New York City and city of Los Angeles housing authorities are testing programs to allow certain inmates to move in with family in public housing upon release, while Chicago is planning a similar trial. The New Orleans Housing Authority is going further, with a policy that states a criminal background won’t automatically result in rejection.

Still, not everyone would qualify, as federal rules ban from public housing certain former criminals such as sex offenders and those convicted of producing methamphetamine. Local housing authorities are also setting other requirements as they test the changes…

Public housing authorities and voucher programs in many cities have considerable waiting lists. So for now, authorities are targeting inmates who want to return to family already in public housing. The New York City authority, which manages nearly 180,000 apartments, is allowing 150 former inmates, who must go through special screening and follow-up monitoring, to join family.


An Oregon Department of Corrections study found that inmate mother and fathers who participated in parent training were 95% less likely to report new offenses in the first year after release than the study’s control group. Mothers were 59% less likely to be arrested in that first year, and fathers were 27% less likely. The study is part of ODC’s Children of Incarcerated Parents Project, which has been in effect for 11 years, and aims to reduce recidivism and improve outcomes for kids with locked-up parents.

ThinkProgress’ Nicole Flatow has the story. Here’s a clip:

Kids whose parents are in prison are not only missing emotional support. About half of these parents had been the primary providers of their children’s financial support before going to jail.

So Oregon has good reason to be looking at ways to keep parents out of jail. And after 11 years of trying, it’s found one that seems to serve its purpose of curbing the cycle of crime. An Oregon Department of Corrections study found that inmates who underwent parenting training while behind bars were 95 percent less likely than those in a control group to report criminal activity in the year after the training. They were also significantly less likely to be arrested again. Women who underwent parenting training were 59 percent less likely to be arrested a year later, while men were 27 percent less likely to be re-arrested.

Fathers who participated in the program were also significantly more likely to give their children positive reinforcement after being released. And parents were more likely to have regular family contact, which has been associated with lower rates of repeat offenses in many previous studies.


In late 2011, the Oregon gray wolf, OR-7, made history when he wandered across the state line from Oregon into California (likely looking for a mate). He was the first wild wolf in California since 1924. In March 2013, OR-7 returned to Oregon, but has crossed the border often since.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife announced on Monday that it believes OR-7 has finally found a mate. ODFW has photographed a female wolf in OR-7′s territory and believe minimal movement from OR-7′s tracker means that they have denned and produced a litter. (Hooray!)

Sacramento Bee’s Matt Weiser has the story. Here’s a clip:

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife reported Monday it has photographic evidence that OR7 has found a female companion somewhere in the state’s Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest region. Officials, following usual policy, won’t reveal exactly where the two are located. But the agency has identified a large spear-shaped region of land as OR7’s territory, stretching north from the California border between Medford and Klamath Falls.

In early May, the same remote cameras in the national forest captured images of a female wolf as well as the first images the agency has ever captured of OR7 himself. The coinicidence of these images, as well as data from the GPS collar worn by OR7, “strongly indicate” the two have mated, said Michelle Dennehy, spokeswoman for the Oregon wildlife agency.

A recent relative lack of movement by OR7 also suggests the wolf couple has denned up and produced a litter of pups, especially given that the time of year is typical for mating.

Posted in LASD, Reentry, Rehabilitation, wolves | 2 Comments »

$$ for Relatives Caring for Kids in the DCFS System, LASD Tightening Use-of-Force Policies & Putting Body Scanners in Jails….LAPD Commission Responds to Vehicle Camera Tampering….and Wolves

April 17th, 2014 by Taylor Walker


California lawmakers are considering a bill that would funnel some CalWORKS money directly to relatives caring for children removed from their homes.

An LA Times editorial says this bill is a step in the right direction, but that more funding support should be given to grandparents and relatives caring for children in the DCFS system.

Here’s a clip, but go read the rest:

A little funding to allow a child to stay with relatives — $8,000 or so a year — is a drop in the bucket compared with the more than $100,000 a year it costs the public to maintain a child in a group home. And because children raised by family members have higher rates of graduation and lower rates of homelessness, drug abuse and arrest as adults, it’s smart policy to give grandparents and others living in retirement and on Social Security enough information and money on the front end to buy their young charges clothes and food and to pay for gas or bus fare to get to doctors and parent nights at school.

The Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection wisely argued in its draft final report that funding and services for a child removed from his or her parents should be determined by the child’s needs, not by the status of the placement family. State lawmakers are considering a bill — AB 1882 — that would go part of the way toward helping to direct funding to relative caregivers, and it’s a good start. But so much more could be accomplished in Los Angeles County if the Board of Supervisors would make child welfare a priority across all county departments and not just at the Department of Children and Family Services.


LA County Sheriff’s Department officials are attempting to really solve the problem of excessive force by revising the department’s use-of-force policies. Deputies will be held accountable not only for their actions during a force incident, but also for any negligent actions that trigger the physical conflict.

The department will also launch a pilot program to replace pat downs and invasive cavity searches in county jails with body scanners, in an effort to relieve tension between inmates and deputies. To start, two scanners will be placed at the Inmate Reception Center downtown.

The LA Daily News’ Thomas Himes has the story. Here are some clips:

Under the new policy, investigators will consider how officers acted prior to an incident when determining whether they acted properly. Previously, they were just supposed to focus on the moment when force was used.

“It’s so dramatic, it’s like an about-face from how this county has been doing it,” Supervisor Gloria Molina said.

Under the ruling, force could be deemed unreasonable if the deputy acted negligently leading up to an force incident, attorney Richard Drooyan told supervisors.

Drooyan, who’s been tasked with monitoring the sheriff’s implementation of recommendations made by the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence, said current department policies focus on the moment when force is used.


The ruling may also increase the county’s potential liability from previous cases that are already headed toward litigation, prompting Molina to ask for a team of attorneys to review those cases again.


…A major step forward in reducing jailhouse tensions will start testing Monday when the department puts a pair of body scanners to use at its Inmate Reception Center…

Once in place, [Assistant Sheriff Terri] McDonald said, the scanners will allow inmates to avoid physical searches, while more effectively keeping drugs and other contraband out of jails.

“It allows them in a more dignified way to be subjected to a search,” McDonald said.


Last week, we pointed to a story about LAPD officers’ unauthorized dismantling of 80 in-car video cameras, and the subsequent failure of LAPD officials to investigate. (While it is no excuse, a story on the LAPD union’s blog provides some extra context.)

On Tuesday, LAPD officials, including Chief Charlie Beck, had to answer to the department’s civilian oversight commission regarding the lack of accountability and department transparency displayed in handling the issue.

KPCC’s Erika Aguilar has the story. Here’s a clip:

Commissioner Kathleen Kim was especially troubled by the lack of accountability.

“The inability to investigate is probably as troubling as the incident itself,” Kim said. “Because the ability to investigate serves as a deterrent for these kinds of things happening in the future.”


An investigation into the missing antennas didn’t lead to any disciplinary action against individual officers or supervisors. LAPD commanders told the police commission Tuesday it would be difficult to single out misconduct among the 1,500 officers at the South Bureau. That’s because officers on different shifts share patrol cars and they are often transferred in and out of the bureau.

“For me personally I didn’t see the potential for an outcome of holding anybody accountable,” said deputy chief Robert Green, in charge of LAPD’s South Bureau.

Green said he put all his officers on notice: “to make sure that they understood the importance of digital in-car video, the importance of the perception of missing antennas and the fact that if an antenna or a part of the system was tampered with, it was considered very, very serious misconduct.”

With president Steve Soboroff absent Tuesday, police commissioners Paula Madison, Robert Saltzman and Kim took turns questioning three high-ranking LAPD officials, including Chief Beck. They asked why individuals were not held accountable for the tampering and why the department didn’t notify the police commission sooner of the problem.

Deputy Chief Stephen Jacobs took responsibility for not notifying the L.A. Police Commission’s inspector general of the problem, calling it as an oversight and not an intentional act.

“The simple answer is this: If the commission believes that it was not notified correctly, then the commission is right,” Beck said.


On Wednesday, the California Fish and Game Commission considered placing the gray wolf on the endangered list, in anticipation of a future generation of the wolves in the state. (Back in the early 1900′s California wolves were killed off by hunters. When the Oregon gray wolf, OR-7, crossed the border in 2011, he was the first wild wolf in California since 1924.)

The commission opted to delay the decision for another 90 days in order to hear more public comment on the issue.

The AP’s Scott Smith has the story. Here’s how it opens:

While much of the country has relaxed rules on killing gray wolves, California will consider protecting the species after a lone wolf from Oregon raised hopes the animals would repopulate their historic habitat in the Golden State.

The California Fish and Game Commission on Wednesday postponed for three months a decision on whether to list the gray wolf as endangered. Commissioners heard impassioned arguments from environmentalists who want the wolves to again to roam the state and from cattle ranchers who fear for their herds.

“I think we made them blink,” said Amaroq Weiss of the Center for Biological Diversity, which leads the push for protection. “I think they heard our arguments.”

State wildlife officials say they don’t support the listing because wolf packs haven’t roamed in California for nearly a century and there’s no scientific basis to consider them endangered.

Recent interest in protecting the species started in 2011, when one wolf from Oregon — called OR-7 — was tracked crossing into California. The endangered listing has been under review for the last year.


Wildlife officials oppose the listing because wolves have been absent from California, so researchers have no way of measuring threats or the viability of the animal in the state, said Eric Loft, chief of wildlife programs for the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Yet, the animal is iconic of the western landscape and California could easily become the home to functioning wolf packs within a decade, said Chuck Bonham, director of the wildlife agency.

The hearing was in Ventura. Hopefully the next will be in reasonable driving distance of certain wolf-loving Los Angeles residents.

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LAPD, LAPPL, LASD, wolves | 1 Comment »

Who has the right to be educated in LA County Jail?…Homeboy Goes to Scotland…Gov’t Sued Over Not Protecting Endangered Species…and More

May 30th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


Michael Garcia, who is about to turn 23 in a California state prison, was sentenced as an adult to 12 years in lock-up for his part in a gang-related crime that occurred in 2006 when he was 15. Garcia will be released in 2016, when he’s 26, at which point he is determined to reboot the trajectory of his life toward a positive—and legal—future. One important step along the way to that new life, Garcia knows, is a high school diploma.

Garcia, however, has a learning disability meaning that he does not fit well into conventional classes or instruction. Nevertheless, until he turned 22 years old, the state of California is legally required to provide him with the rest of his high school education, if he desires it, even if he’s incarcerated.

But once Garcia was moved from a juvenile facility to the LA County jail, no state or county educational agency seemed to want to be the ones to provide him with that education—although everyone seemed to cheerily agree that it was in the best interest of society, and all that good stuff, for someone to do it. The question was: who?

Joanna Lin, from the Center for Investigative Reporting, has the story about Garcia and the growing number of young, learning disabled inmates like him who are falling through a yawning gap in the special education laws, never mind that education is one of the biggest predictors when it comes to determining how well or poorly a person does when he or she gets out of prison and attempts to reenter the legal, working world.

Here’s a clip from Lin’s story:

School ended for Michael Garcia with a routine transfer from juvenile hall to adult county jail. There was no fanfare, diploma or cap and gown. He hadn’t graduated or dropped out.

He’d simply turned 18.

For the next 19 months, he was in limbo, unable to receive the high school diploma that he’ll need for most jobs and to attend college. Despite being eligible for special education under state and federal laws – Garcia has a learning disability, an auditory processing disorder and a speech and language impairment – in the Los Angeles County Men’s Central Jail, he was a student that no one wanted to teach.

California and federal laws allow students with disabilities to receive special education services until age 22. But the laws are vague enough that deciding who should provide that education is unclear.

Garcia has spent nearly five years in legal battles trying to hold someone accountable. This year, the California Supreme Court is expected to hear Garcia’s case to determine whether an incarcerated student’s local school district – the one in which his or her parents reside – is responsible for his or her special education.

The case has implications for county inmates with disabilities and school districts across the state that could be required to send teachers into jails to instruct special education students. In L.A. County jails alone, attorneys for Garcia estimate, between 400 and 700 young adults are eligible for special education on any given day.

The court’s decision will come too late for Garcia, who is incarcerated at a state prison – a system beyond the scope of his petition. Still, said Garcia, who turns 23 in June, “it’s the least I can do.”

“I know other people are struggling to get education too but don’t have the courage to keep pushing,” he said. “I already went through that struggle. Why not keep going to help everyone else?”

NOTE: just to be clear, it is not the job of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department to educate people like Garcia. It’s LAUSD and/or the state of California that is dropping the ball with young inmates with learning disabilities. (The LASD’s Education-Based Incarceration program is an entirely different kind of program.)


Father Greg Boyle and former prison lifer, James Horton (who now works for Boyle’s Homeboy Industries) were asked to visit Scotland in order to consult with local law enforcement about the uptick in crime and violence that is plaguing the country’s poorest urban areas.

Now Boyle and Horton—plus my pal, UCLA violence reduction expert, Jorja Leap—are on the ground in the land of kilts and poets, and the local media has been reporting on their peregrinations. Here’s a clip from the BBC’s coverage by Huw Williams :

Former gang member James Horton spent 12 years on death row in the US but was later cleared of a murder charge. He now works with Homeboy Industries.

“Joining a gang was like a rite of passage, and you did it because you wanted to be accepted by those in your community,” he said.

“I was drug dealer too. I was a criminal. Every opportunity that I had to do something to make some money I was most likely involved in doing that.

“You have to deal with the issue as a whole. You can tell someone ‘come join us, be with us’ but if you don’t give them no hope, or no job, then the gang will always have access to them.

“Father Greg teaches us that you can never take away a person’s hope.”


Police Scotland’s Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) said one of the biggest challenges for ex gang members and those recently out of prison was finding a meaningful job, so they could contribute economically and socially.

Father Greg Boyle and former gang member James Horton are in Glasgow working with the VRU
The VRU said Braveheart Industries, a social enterprise based on the Los Angeles experience, could improve public safety, make communities healthier and safer, and break the cycle of gang violence.

VRU director Karyn McCluskey added: “Giving people an opportunity and a job has a huge impact on their life and it has a halo effect on their family, it affects the lives of their children and their partners, and I think we can use that experience here.

“We’ve had great policing, Stephen House has driven down violence in Scotland, but the thing that really stops reoffending is giving people a positive destination and I think we can really take some of the experience from Father Greg and Homeboy Industries and use it in Scotland.”

Meetings are to be held in Glasgow, with similar sessions planned in Edinburgh and Kilmarnock later in the week, to see if the work can be replicated across Scotland.


This is one of those bureaucratic gaps that needs to be fixed immediately.

The California Report has an podcast on the topic.

Anna Challet of New America Media has still more on the issue. Here’s a clip from her story:

There are over 400,000 children and youth in the foster care system, and almost all of them are enrolled in Medicaid. Brooke Lehmann, the founder of Childworks, an advocacy organization in Washington, D.C., says that 80 percent of foster youth have one or more chronic medical conditions that must continue to be treated after they age out of care.

“There’s simply a cliff where they were once provided for,” she says.

To qualify for the extended coverage [to age 26], youths must have been in foster care at the time of their 18th birthday or have aged out of foster care based on their states’ age limits, and have been enrolled in Medicaid. Until now, states had an option (known as the Chafee Option), but not a mandate, to extend Medicaid coverage to former foster youths, and only until age 21. Only 33 states had adopted the Chafee Option. Now all states will be required to cover eligible youth through age 26.

But, under the extended eligibility provision, there is not currently a requirement that states must cover former foster youth who aged out of care in a different state.


The US Department of Justice, which is not exactly having a good month (what with their poorly received new habit of spying on journalists and all), is now rightfully being sued by environmental advocacy groups for their weak-kneed enforcement of protections against killing endangered species.

Julie Cart of the LA Times has the story. Hee’s a clip:

Environmental groups are taking the Justice Department to court over a policy that prohibits prosecuting individuals who kill endangered wildlife unless it can be proved that they knew they were targeting a protected animal.

Critics charge that the 15-year-old McKittrick policy provides a loophole that has prevented criminal prosecution of dozens of individuals who killed grizzly bears, highly endangered California condors and whooping cranes as well as 48 federally protected Mexican wolves.

The policy stems from a Montana case in which Chad McKittrick was convicted under the Endangered Species Act for killing a wolf near Yellowstone National Park in 1995. He argued that he was not guilty because he thought he was shooting a wild dog.

McKittrick appealed the conviction and lost, but the Justice Department nonetheless adopted a policy that became the threshold for taking on similar cases: prosecutors must prove that the individual knowingly killed a protected species.

The lawsuit charges that the policy sets a higher burden of proof than previously required, arguing, “The DOJ’s McKittrick policy is a policy that is so extreme that it amounts to a conscious and express abdication of DOJ’s statutory responsibility to prosecute criminal violations of the ESA as general intent crimes.”

WLA agrees

And to validate the casualness with which the feds seem to view the protection of endangered species, there is this story from early last month regarding the “mistaken” killing of a highly endangered Mexican Gray wolf by a USDA Wildlife Services employee, who said he thought he was killing a coyote.

Posted in bears and alligators, Education, environment, Foster Care, Gangs, health care, Homeboy Industries, LA County Jail, LAUSD, wolves | 5 Comments »

Thoughts on SCOTUS & Prop 8 Possibilites…Victims of the False Confession Capital…and Wolves

December 10th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

Now that we know that the US Supreme Court will, indeed,
consider the issue of California’s Proposition 8 (along with the Defense of Marriage Act case, the United States v. Windsor), the handicapping has begun as to what the Supremes might decide and why.

With Prop 8 the justices have at least three possible choices:

1. They could elect to reverse the 9th Circuit’s ruling that Prop. 8 is unconstitutional and, in so doing, outlaw same sex marriage in California by letting Prop 8 stand.

2. Alterately, there is the best case scenario: the court could find that Prop 8 violates the U.S. Constitution. And that’s the ball game; same sex marriage will be legal throughout the nation.

3. There is, however, a third option, a sort of trap door that lets SCOTUS out having to make one of the two blanket decisions on constitutionality. With option 3, they could reach in and rule, not on the issue, but on whether the Prop 8 defenders have the “standing” to have appealed the lower court ruling that declared Prop 8 unconstitutional. If the Supremes go for option 3, then wedding bells may ring in California, without affecting the rest of the nation one way or the other.

One of the more upbeat essays analyzing the various possibilities is this op ed in the Sunday LA Times by Harvard Law prof, Michael Klarman, in which Klarman basically says that the most likely options are #2 and #3, that even the most conservative justices can see the way the wind is blowing culturally in the U.S., and they’re not likely to want to have to explain in 10 years to their grandchildren why they voted on the resoundingly wrong side of history. Thus, if they’re not ready to open the doors to marriage rights, nationwide, they’ll kick it back to the states.

Here’s how he ends it:

….Many state legislators have explained their votes in favor of gay marriage on the ground that they wanted to be on the right side of history and to have their children be proud when reflecting on their parent’s legislative record. Judges authoring opinions in support of gay marriage have frequently invoked examples of courts being on the right side of history. Chief Justice Margaret Marshall, the author of Massachusetts’ pioneering gay-marriage ruling, has compared it to that court’s 1790s ruling that barred slavery under the very same constitutional provision. Similarly, the California Supreme Court’s decision in favor of gay marriage proudly invoked its landmark 1948 ruling that invalidated a state ban on interracial marriage.

In 1954, the court’s ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education, which invalidated racial segregation in public schools, split the nation in half. Within two decades, however, it had become iconic. A high court ruling in favor of marriage equality would similarly divide the nation in 2013. Yet, given how quickly public opinion is evolving, within a decade or so such a decision would probably also be almost universally applauded. What justice would not be tempted to author the opinion that within a few short years likely would become known as the Brown vs. Board of Education of the gay rights movement?

However, Adam Liptak is not nearly as chipper in his outlook in Monday’s New York Times.

Here’s a clip:

…The cautious move for the justices would have been to hear just one of the cases they were asked to consider, the one posing the relatively modest question of whether the federal government can discriminate against same-sex couples married in the places that allow such unions.

But the court went big on Friday, also taking the case from California filed by Theodore B. Olson and David Boies. Their case seeks to establish a constitutional right to same-sex marriage in the remaining states, almost all of which have laws or constitutional provisions prohibiting it.

“We are now literally within months,” Mr. Boies said Friday, “of getting a final resolution of this case that began three and a half years ago.”

The speed with which the court is moving has some gay rights advocates bracing for a split decision. The court could strike down the federal law, the Defense of Marriage Act, saying that the meaning of marriage is a matter for the states to decide. At the same time, it could reject the idea that the Constitution requires states to allow same-sex marriage, saying that the meaning of marriage is a matter for the states to decide.

That may be why supporters of traditional marriage sounded pretty cheerful on Friday.

“I’m ecstatic,” said Brian S. Brown, the president of the National Organization for Marriage. “Taking both cases at the same time exposes the hypocrisy on the other side.”

It is entirely possible, then, that the votes to grant review in the California case came from the court’s more conservative justices. They may have calculated that they had a shot at capturing the decisive vote of the member of the court at its ideological center, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, at least in the California case.

AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE TOPIC, HERE ARE the coolest photos of the first wave of same sex couples getting married in Washington.


60 Minutes has an excellent and disturbing story about the prevalence of false confessions, particularly in Chicago, and about two groups of teenagers, now adults, who were pushed into confessing to murders they didn’t commit.

Here’s a clip from the transcript:

Why would anyone confess to a crime they did not commit? It happens so often in Chicago, defense attorneys call the city the false confession capital of the United States. Chicago has twice as many documented false confession cases as any city in the country. One reason may be the way police go about questioning suspects. And 60 Minutes has learned the Chicago Police Department is now the subject of a Justice Department investigation into its interrogation practices.

Two cases we examined involve several teenage boys who were arrested and they say forced or tricked into confessing to violent crimes they never committed. Each spent nearly half their lives in prison. They are free now, and told us their story together for the first time.

Terrill Swift: We all of us got one thing in common. We did an extensive amount of time in jail for something we didn’t do. And that’s the bottom line.

They each would serve sentences that ranged from 15 years to life. Terrill Swift, Michael Saunders, Vincent Thames, and Harold Richardson were convicted in one rape and murder. James Harden, Robert Taylor and Jonathan Barr, in a different one. All were found guilty based solely on confessions.


The latest instance of a tagged and monitored wolf that are part of Yellowstone’s wolf study program being killed makes clear that some better system needs to be designed that protects these wolves during hunting season.

The New York Times’ Nate Schweber has the story about the shooting of 826F—popularly known as ’06, the rock star female wolf.

Yellowstone National Park’s best-known wolf, beloved by many tourists and valued by scientists who tracked its movements, was shot and killed on Thursday outside the park’s boundaries, Wyoming wildlife officials reported.

The wolf, known as 832F to researchers, was the alpha female of the park’s highly visible Lamar Canyon pack and had become so well known that some wildlife watchers referred to her as a “rock star.” The animal had been a tourist favorite for most of the past six years.

The wolf was fitted with a $4,000 collar with GPS tracking technology, which is being returned, said Daniel Stahler, a project director for Yellowstone’s wolf program. Based on data from the wolf’s collar, researchers knew that her pack rarely ventured outside the park, and then only for brief periods, Dr. Stahler said.

This year’s hunting season in the northern Rockies has been especially controversial because of the high numbers of popular wolves and wolves fitted with research collars that have been killed just outside Yellowstone in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming….

Photographer Jimmy Jones has photos of ’06 here.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, How Appealing, Innocence, LGBT, Supreme Court, wolves | No Comments »

Girls in the Juvenile Justice System, LAPD Chief’s Immigrant Strategies, Banning Puppy Mills, and More

October 25th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


A new report from the Georgetown Center on Poverty says that things like diversion programs, staff training, and gender-specific programming need to be developed in order to help the fastest-growing group in the juvenile justice system—girls.

NPR’s Carrie Johnson has the story. Here’s a clip:

Experts say girls make up the fastest-growing segment of the juvenile justice system, with more than 300,000 arrests and criminal charges every year. A new report by the Georgetown Center on Poverty, Inequality, and Public Policy says the system isn’t doing enough to help those young girls.

Most girls who wind up tangled in the justice system have family problems, trauma or a history of abuse, says Georgetown University professor Peter Edelman, who co-authored the report, “Improving the Juvenile Justice System for Girls.”

More than half of the girls detained these days don’t commit big crimes. More often their transgressions are things like skipping school, breaking curfew or running away from home, says Edelman, who has studied justice up close since the 1970s.

“Getting them back into school and getting them back on a path without invoking the sanctions of the juvenile and criminal justice system,” Edelman says, “that is so much better in terms of not leaving those wounds and scars and preserving the possibilities for the future.”


LAPD Chief Charlie Beck says that his recent immigration initiatives and policy changes are not based on his personal views on illegal immigration or political strategy, but directly related to public safety. (We’re a day late on this story about LAPD Chief Beck and immigration, but it’s important and we wanted to make sure you didn’t miss it. For background, go here and here…and here.)

The LA Times’ Joel Rubin has the very well-written story. Here are some clips:

A decade ago, Charlie Beck watched as William J. Bratton arrived in Los Angeles and began rebuilding a department deeply tarnished by the Rodney King beating, riots and corruption scandals. Bratton made many changes as chief, but Beck was particularly taken by his aggressive effort to rebuild the LAPD’s broken relationship with the African American community, which over and over Bratton said was a cornerstone to his success.

Beck carried the lesson with him when he replaced Bratton three years ago as chief of the nation’s second-largest police force. With nearly half of the city’s population Hispanic and the federal government’s aggressive efforts to identify and deport illegal immigrants sowing fear in immigrant communities, Beck believed that his success or failure as chief rested heavily on whether he could replicate Bratton’s success — but this time with Latinos.

His actions have made him a lightning rod for criticism, even from some of his own police officers. But they have also established Beck as a forceful national voice for a more restrained approach to illegal immigration, a high-profile counterpoint to hard-liners like Sheriff Joseph Arpaio in Arizona’s Maricopa County.


In an interview, Beck said he was driven to act on some level by his sense that he can and should help level the playing field for illegal immigrants, whom he said have suffered unfairly from crude federal immigration laws. But Beck said those personal views were not as important as his more practical belief that extending an olive branch to immigrants in Los Angeles was vital to the LAPD’s crime-fighting efforts.

“It’s not so much that I am a dove on immigration,” he said. “It’s that I’m a realist. I recognize that this is the population that I police. If I can take steps — legal steps — to make them a better population to police then I will…. I do have sympathy for their plight, but my actions are not based mainly on that. It makes absolute law enforcement sense. Any one of these things I’ve done is directly tied to public safety.”


LA City Council voted Wednesday in favor of banning the sale of non-rescue dogs, cats, and rabbits in pet stores. If it passes with a majority a second time, it will bring about a three year trial run to see if targeting puppy and kitten mills will bring down euthanization rates at shelters.

LAist’s Lauren Lloyd has the story. Here’s a clip:

City News Service explains that the ordinance “is intended to shut down puppy and kitten mills and reduce the tens of thousands of euthanizations performed on unclaimed animals each year.” While it clearly mandates that pet stores cannot sell animals obtained from commercial breeders, pet stores would still be permitted to sell animals from shelters, humane societies and registered rescue groups. Individuals would still be allowed to buy directly from breeders as well.

Penalties for stores caught disobeying the law include misdemeanor charges and a first-time penalty of $250. A third strike would carry a fine of up to $1,000.

The wolves and Pomeranians at WitnessLA approved this message.


A 28-year-old LA gang member pleaded guilty Tuesday to the murder of well-liked LA Sheriff’s Dept. Deputy Juan Escalante, who at the time of his death was working at Men’s Central Jail. (For background on Deputy Escalante’s heartbreaking story, go here.)

The LA Times’ Richard Winton has the story. Here’s a clip:

Carlos Velasquez, 28, pleaded guilty to murder and one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon in the Aug. 2, 2008, slaying of Dep. Juan Abel Escalante, right. The plea was accepted by Superior Court Judge Ronald S. Coen.

Velasquez was originally charged with capital murder and could have faced the death penalty. He admitted he killed the deputy as he was leaving his parents’ Cypress Park home to head to work at the Men’s Central Jail.

Escalante was shot in the back of the head as he reached into his car to adjust a child’s car seat.

Deputy Dist. Attys. Phillip Stirling and John Colello say Velasquez wrongly believed he was killing a gang rival and shot the deputy numerous times.

Posted in bears and alligators, Charlie Beck, crime and punishment, immigration, juvenile justice, LAPD, LASD, wolves | 2 Comments »

Juvie LWOP Bill Passes CA Assembly(!!!), SD Jails Ban Letters to Inmates, CA Realignment Update, and Wolves

August 17th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


EDITOR’S NOTE: Since I’ve been tracking this issue for quite a while, the first item is from me. Then I’ll pass you over to Taylor for the rest of the post.

At around 10 am on Thursday morning, juvenile justice advocates across the state were frantically sending out texts and emails urging everybody—anybody—to call a particular shortlist of California State Assemblypersons—or email them, fax them, or walk in their damned offices if need be—and tell the three to please, PLEASE vote for SB 9, Senator Leeland Yee’s bill that, if signed into law, would allow kids who have been sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, to have at least a tiny outside possibility of one day being freed from prison.

The bill was just one measly vote short, the advocates’ messages said. Just one.

As close as the proposed legislation was to passage, however, a lot of those tracking the matter were too jittery to hope for a victory.

After all, twice before over the past three years, a form of Yee’s bill had passed through the state senate only to die a disheartening death in the assembly because a cluster of moderate Democrats were made so jumpy and spineless by the threats and dark predictions of victims lobbies and the state’s district attorneys’ organizations, that they couldn’t bring themselves to vote for the bill.

(WitnessLA covered 2010′s ignominious defeat of the bill here.)

On the other hand, many advocates believed that this time the hoped-for miracle might happen, mainly because of the June ruling by the US Supreme Court, Miller v. Alabama, which stated that LWOP—life without parole—could no longer be a mandatory minimum sentence for kids.

The court avoided banning juvenile LWOP altogether. But it took a big step in that direction by making clear, as it had begun to do in an earlier ruling, that kids are different than adults. Thus, SCOTUS implied, we need to consider their actions—even their worst possible actions—- in a different light than we do those of adults.

Juvenile advocates hoped that the Miller ruling would give the nervous assembly members the political cover to finally stand up straight and do the right thing.

Now here it was, do or die time. The advocate emails named Assemblypersons Alejo, Campos, and Mendoza as the three Dems who hadn’t yet voted. Call them now! urged the emails. All we need is one!

A few minutes later, the needed vote arrived. State Assemblyman Tony Mendoza was the breakthrough lawmaker.

Within seconds, a new set of email and text announcements flew around the Internets, and this time they were nearly ecstatic in tone: SB 9 had been passed by the California State Assembly.

Not a single Republican assembly member voted in favor of the bill.

Yes, the proposed legislation still needs to be passed by the state senate. But versions of this bill have made it through the state senate twice before without too much trouble. So with just a modicum of luck, and the added impetus of June’s SCOTUS ruling, SB 9 could be on Governor Brown’s desk before Labor Day.

To get an idea of the uphill battle that has taken place to get SB 9 to this point, take a look at Rob Greene’s LA Times editorial from this past January, in which he quoted with sorrow and fury from all the other editorials he and the Times had written on the topic over the past 3 years—to no avail.

Until now.

But first clip from the story by Human Rights Watch, which has been a strong advocate for the bill from the beginning.

The vote came just weeks after a United States Supreme Court decision barring the mandatory sentencing of juvenile offenders to life without parole. The Senate and governor should now act to bring California in line with the Supreme Court ruling, Human Rights Watch said.

“The Supreme Court decision highlighted the need for the California leaders to act,” said Elizabeth Calvin, senior children’s rights advocate at Human Rights Watch, based in Los Angeles. “Laws now on California’s books allow youth to be condemned to a lifetime in prison, with no hope or possibility of release. The bill that the assembly just passed finally recognizes children’s capacity for change and would enable California to comply with the Supreme Court’s recent ruling.”

The bill, Senate Bill 9, is to go to the state Senate for a vote. If the governor signs it into law, it will allow people who were under age 18 at the time of their crimes to ask the sentencing court to review their sentences after serving up to 25 years in prison. The passage of time puts the court in a better position to assess whether the person merits the possibility of parole, Human Rights Watch said.

Here how Robert Greene’s January editorial opens:

We’ve said it before — more than a dozen times. A child, even a bad one, should not be sent to prison for life without any chance at parole. It’s a mark of societal fear and a lust for revenge. Some younger criminals may indeed be so incorrigible that they should never go free, but after he or she has been behind bars for a quarter of a century, a judge, and a parole board, should be able to consider release.

On Tuesday, the state Assembly is reconsidering SB 9, a bill to put California among the ranks of civilized societies by ending juvenile life without parole sentences. Finally, Assembly, put this matter to rest, pass the bill and send it to the governor.

Or, as we have said previously:

Jan. 16, 2008:

But of all the inequities of a dysfunctional penal system and harsh state laws, few can touch our predilection for discarding the lives of children who commit crimes before they’re old enough to fully understand the consequences of their actions….

And he goes on from there with nine more snippets of nine more Times editorials on the topic—all of them impassioned and all particularly satisfying to read today in the light of Thursday’s good news.

Obviously, we’ll be tracking this bill the rest of the way—with our fingers firmly crossed for a sane outcome.

Okay, now back to Taylor for the rest of today’s postings.


A new policy to extend to all seven San Diego jails bans inmates from receiving letters. Inmates will be restricted to postcards and email communications beginning September 1st.

CBS has the AP story. Here’s how it opens:

San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore has a message for jail inmates: No more letters.

The sheriff announced Wednesday that letters for inmates at the department’s seven jails will be returned to senders starting Sept. 1. It is an effort to prevent contraband from entering cells.

Cmdr. Richard Miller says drugs, weapons and needles have been hidden in letters. He recognizes that letter-writing is an inexpensive way to communicate, but says safety concerns prevailed.


A new report by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice reported that in the first quarter of realignment there were 39% less prison admissions than when realignment began, and 26,480 fewer total prisoners. However the CJCJ notes that, in the second quarter, things begin to get more complicated as, in some counties. admissions rose—with the biggest increase in non-marijuana drug offenses.

Here’s a clip that describes what they found:

New quarterly figures released by CDCR show that during the first 9 months of realignment there has been a 39% overall reduction in new prison admissions as of June 30, 2012, and a drop of 26,480 in the prison population as of August 8, 2012, compared to October 1, 2011. Realignment was designed to redirect non-serious, non-violent, non-sex offenders from incarceration in state prison to the supervision of local jurisdictions. Within the first 9 months of realignment, CDCR has already progressed two-thirds of the way toward the goal of reducing inmate populations by 40,000 by 2017.

However, the initially steep reductions in prisoners may be almost over, and further cuts may prove harder to achieve. The second quarter of 2012 actually brought an increase in new admissions. From March through June 2012, 8,352 inmates were admitted to California prisons, an increase of 306 over the 8,046 admitted in January through March. A contributing factor to the increase was an additional 2 days in the 2nd than in the first quarter.


The biggest increase in admissions, by far, was in new felon admissions for non-marijuana drug offenses, which rose by 22%, while property offender numbers rose by 6% and violent offender numbers remained the same.

So how to account for those admissions increases?

In the report’s conclusion, CJCJ explores possible explanations for this small but curious reversal of trends, and offers one explanation that their analysts believe is the most plausible—and that assuredly deserves further investigation:

Here’s a clip from that section:

….prosecutors in certain jurisdictions could be exploring
ways to avoid realignment mandates by charging more defendants with those offenses still eligible
for state imprisonment. For example in November 2011, Los Angeles District Attorney, Steve
Cooley, announced he was teaching his staff “to ‘scour’ criminal records to make sure they note any
prior offenses when they file new charges, and to make sure that new charges include offenses
categorized as serious, violent or sexual when possible” (Lagos, 2011). Whether as a result of
deliberate policy or for other reasons, Los Angeles’s prison commitments rose by 135 from the first
to the second quarter of 2012, reversing the county’s previous decline.

Definitely worth exploring further.


With the arrival (and extended stay) of OR-7, the lone wolf who wandered into CA from Oregon in December, has come concern that gray wolves need to be given California endangered species status. The Department of Fish and Game commission will vote on the issue in October, and hopefully pave the road for future CA wolves.

Summit County Voice’s Bob Berwyn has the story. Here are some clips:

Responding to a petition from wildlife conservation advocates, the California Department of Fish and Game last week recommended the endangered species status to the state’s fish and game commission, which will vote on the issue in October.

California is grappling with the issue against an interesting backdrop. A lone wolf that wandered from Oregon continues to roam the wild northeastern quadrant of the state, and wildlife advocates say there’s room for more. At the same time, the federal government is considering removing wolves from the endangered species list on other parts of the country.


“We’re glad the Department of Fish and Game agrees that the gray wolf deserves consideration for protection under the California Endangered Species Act,” said Noah Greenwald, the Center’s endangered species director. “California has hundreds of square miles of excellent wolf habitat, but if wolves in the state are going to increase from one to many, they need the protection of the California Endangered Species Act.”

“California needs a road map for recovering wolves,” said Greenwald. “Wolf populations in neighboring states will continue to expand, and more wolves will almost certainly show up in California. These wolves will need protection when they arrive.”

Posted in criminal justice, jail, juvenile justice, LWOP Kids, Realignment, Sentencing, wolves | 2 Comments »

Wolf-dogs as Prison Guards, Goldman Sachs to Invest in NYC Jail Program, and New Foster Care Bill to Give Social Workers Access to Records

August 3rd, 2012 by Taylor Walker


Amid hefty budget (and personnel) cuts, Angola Prison has employed 80 wolf-dogs to patrol parts of the facility at night. (We at WitnessLA are in favor of full employment for wolf-dogs, as illustrated by the photo above.)

The Wall Street Journal’s Gary Fields has the story. Here’s a clip:

The wolf dogs, as they are called here, are the brainchild of Warden Burl Cain and his staff, and they were brought in last year in response to a steady decline in the prison’s annual budget from $135 million five years ago to $115 million today. The prison, which is known as Angola, has laid off 105 out of 1,200 officers, and 35 of the 42 guard towers now stand empty on the 18,000-acre prison grounds.

The animals regularly guard at least three of the seven camps that make up the complex.

Mr. Cain says the wolf dogs are a strong psychological deterrent. “The wolf ate Grandma,” he said.

They also save money. The average correctional officer at Angola earns about $34,000 a year, a prison spokesman said. By comparison, the canine program, which includes about 80 dogs—the wolf hybrids along with other breeds for other tasks— costs about $60,000 annually for medical care, supplies and food.


Leviathan investment banking firm, Goldman Sachs, is investing $9.6M in Adolescent Behavioral Learning Experience a program aimed at reducing the recidivism rate of male youth at Rikers Island. Goldman use of the new “social impact bonds” means the company will only break even if the recidivism at Rikers drops by 10% at the end of the four-year program. Critics worry that the program will give an incentive for people to cook the stats.

The NY Times’ David W. Chen has the story. Here’s a clip:

The city will be the first in the United States to test “social impact bonds,” also called pay-for-success bonds, which are an effort to find new ways to finance initiatives that might save governments money over the long term.

First used in Britain and now being explored in Australia, the bonds are rapidly capturing the imagination of some public officials in the United States: on Wednesday, Massachusetts announced that it was completing negotiations with two nonprofit groups to finance juvenile justice and homelessness programs, with the promise of repayment only if the programs work.

The federal government, Connecticut, New York State and Cuyahoga County, Ohio, among others, are at various stages of considering using the bonds to harness new funds for human-services programs.

In New York City, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg plans to announce on Thursday that Goldman Sachs will provide a $9.6 million loan to pay for a new four-year program intended to reduce the rate at which adolescent men incarcerated at Rikers Island reoffend after their release.

The money is not a huge amount for Goldman, which last month reported over $900 million in second-quarter profit, and the investment promises a public-relations benefit for the Wall Street bank. For the city, the money allows the Bloomberg administration to demonstrate, and test, several of its priorities: enlisting private sector help in financing public needs, and tying program money to rigorous outcome evaluations.

The Goldman money will be used to pay MDRC, a social services provider, to design and oversee the program. If the program reduces recidivism by 10 percent, Goldman would be repaid the full $9.6 million; if recidivism drops more, Goldman could make as much as $2.1 million in profit; if recidivism does not drop by at least 10 percent, Goldman would lose as much as $2.4 million.

Check out Mayor Bloomberg’s press release and briefing to learn more about Social Impact Bonds and ABLE.


The Uninterrupted Scholars Act, a new bill introduced Wednesday by Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu, aims to give social workers access to the school records of kids in foster care. The bill addresses a snag in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act that makes it hard for those acting as guardians of foster kids to access school records. (WitnessLA has previously posted about a similar bill—the A+ Act.)

Foster care journalist/advocate Daniel Heimpel has the story in his publication, The Chronicle of Social Change. Here’s a clip:

Yesterday, Senator Mary Landrieu (D-La.) introduced the Uninterrupted Scholars Act, which would amend educational privacy law to allow foster care administrations’ access to student records. The bill was co-sponsored by Charles Grassley (R-Iowa.), Mark Begich (D-Ala.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) protects students’ records from most parties other than parents or schools. A broad array of advocacy and other groups from around the country have long argued that an unintended consequence of FERPA is that foster care social workers, administrators and even foster parents have a hard time accessing educational records, which are critical to assisting children successfully navigate school.

“There are some real horror stories from the field that we have heard about how this is really impeding our ability to help nurture and love these children and get them to a safer place,” Landrieu said in an interview.

Posted in Foster Care, jail, prison, wolves | No Comments »

« Previous Entries