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women’s issues

Changing Leadership at CA Women’s Prisons, and Why We Need More Female Cops

August 4th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


Both of California’s only all-female prisons—which have been under investigation by the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation—are reportedly undergoing changes in leadership. On Friday, the CDCR sent out two memos announcing the retirement of Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) Warden Deborah “DK” Johnson and California Institution for Women (CIW) Warden Kimberly Hughes.

A CDCR representative has said that the timing of the two wardens’ retirements is merely a coincidence, but prisoners’ rights advocates say the corrections department is cleaning house, and likely forced the retirements. And the CDCR spokeswoman, Krissi Khokhobashvili, confirmed that other higher-ups at CCWF have been reassigned.

We at WitnessLA have been closely following the situation at CIW, in particular. The prison has experienced an alarmingly high number of suicides (6), and suicide attempts (73), since at least 2013. In fact, the facility has the highest suicide rate–five times the state average—among all 34 prisons. (Read the story of Erika Rocha, who committed suicide in April, in the mental health unit at CIW, just one day before a scheduled parole hearing.)

Both prisons have struggled with serious overcrowding issues. The overflowing population at CCWF, one of the largest women’s prisons in the nation, has reportedly exacerbated problems with medical care at the facility, as well as “a culture of fear and retaliation…and a general lack of respect on the part of the guards toward the women,” according to Don Spector, executive director of the Prison Law Office.

LA Weekly’s Hillel Aron has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

Department of Corrections spokeswoman Krissi Khokhobashvili says the timing of the dual retirements is merely a coincidence.

“They both put in for retirement, as far as I know,” Khokhobashvili says.

But according to Khokhobashvili, a number of other top officials at CCWF have been reassigned, including its chief deputy warden, chief executive officer and chief medical executive.

Observers of the prison system see the personnel changes as a move by Department of Corrections Secretary Scott Kernan, who was appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Dec. 28, to clean house.

“I’m relieved that there’s any response at all that indicates they see a problem,” Lenz says. “But I don’t feel optimistic, given their track record of investigating themselves.”

Spector agrees.

“We’re grateful that the department has made some changes to the leadership of both of those institutions,” he says. “But that’s only the first step. There needs to be intensive work to change the culture and practices at both prisons.”


There are over 3 million incidents of domestic violence reported to police each year, according to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics. Out of the reported assaults on spouses or ex-spouses, 95% were acts of violence by men against women.

Of the more than 4.5 million reported violent crimes committed against women every year in the US, 500,000 are sexual assaults—although rape and other sexual assaults are wildly underreported. Female rape victims—whose stories are often discredited by law enforcement—are statistically more likely to report sexual assault if female cops are present.

Yet, nearly 90% of law enforcement officers nationwide are male.

At the local level, the Los Angeles Police Department—which, interestingly, hired the nation’s first female police officer with arrest powers—had 1,855 sworn female officers and 8,046 sworn male officers, as of June 2016. (For comparison, the department employs 1,676 women and 1,129 men in civilian roles.) According to LA County’s open data website, the sheriff’s department is composed of 11,360 men and 6,349 women. (The county data is not broken down into sworn versus civilian.)

By telling the harrowing story of her grandmother—a victim of domestic abuse who became a police officer—author and journalist Sarah Smarsh discusses the gender disparity in policing, and the need for more female cops, who are no less capable than their male peers, and who bring to the table more empathy and respect toward the citizens they serve.

Female cops are also less likely to use excessive force or engage in misconduct. Smarsh argues that “toxic masculinity,” bias, and a culture of overly aggressive law enforcement (and even sexual assault) within troubled departments would be mitigated by having an even number of men and women wearing badges. “There is no greater agent of positive disruption than a female cop,” Smarsh says.

Here’s a clip from Smarsh’s not-to-be-missed Longread:

Men thus compose the immense majority of both women’s assailants and women’s official protectors…

“The history of police is the history of state power,” political theorist Mark Neocleous wrote in The Fabrication of Social Order. State power for millennia belonged mostly to men, of course, societal beneficiaries of a biological evolution in which size meant control. Modern policing thus centers on armed males trained to subdue civil disruption—most recently and notably, mass killings by male shooters with histories of violence against women—with physical force. The 20th century was a crescendo of militarization, first by the state and then by a fearful populace. It brought us to our current, boiling-point moment in which mostly male cops kill innocent civilians and mostly male civilians kill innocent cops. Racism is often the undercurrent, but toxic masculinity is the force that makes it lethal.

Meanwhile, a modern officer’s work more often involves driving a homeless person to a shelter than it does tackling a perp or drawing a weapon. For a society that in recent decades has dismantled many of the public institutions that once cared for citizens in need—mental health care, welfare, after-school programs—today’s American cop is among the few remaining tax-funded administrators of public wellness. He is less called upon to be a soldier than a caretaker.

Often the person who needs his care is a woman. In that process, gender can be a detrimental divide.

One result of that divide is that women are often disbelieved when reporting assault. In a 2014 study published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, ten officers in a Michigan police department—seven of whom were male—described their personal approaches to evaluating rape reports: “If there is no physical evidence and you said you got raped, did you get raped? …No,” one cop said. Other officers described giving alleged victims “a light interrogation” in the event that “there’s any inclination that there might be another motive” for the report. Such scrutiny of sexual assault victims deters reporting, of course. Unsurprisingly, the presence of female cops makes women more likely to report, according to United Nations research.

A police department’s treatment of domestic violence in its own ranks is telling of the culture it brings to work. In the Los Angeles Police Department’s handling of domestic violence claims against its own officers from 1990 to 1997, 227 complaints were filed, 91 were determined to be worth investigating—and just four resulted in a criminal conviction. The validated claims weren’t mentioned in performance evaluations more than three-quarters of the time, and over a quarter of accused officers were promoted while under investigation. Calling out bad cops is risky business, of course. When a legal consultant in a civil lawsuit noticed these scandalous mishandlings in LAPD personnel files and leaked the story to the press, he became the first person in U.S. history to serve prison time for violating a judge’s protective order.

An even more sinister outcome of a gender-lopsided police force: Sexual assault of female civilians by male cops. Last year, the Associated Press reported that, over a six-year period, about a thousand officers lost their badges for rape, propositioning citizens and other sex crimes. Victims—mostly young, poor females compromised by addiction or criminal records and unlikely to file complaint—included “unsuspecting motorists, schoolchildren ordered to raise their shirts in a supposed search for drugs… women with legal troubles who succumbed to performing sex acts for promised help, and prison inmates forced to have sex with guards.” The study doesn’t capture the size of the problem, as it only counted revoked licenses, thus leaving out untold reported and unreported offenses that went unpunished. (Nine states and Washington, D.C., including highly populous California and New York, didn’t provide numbers or have no state-level system for dealing with officer misconduct to begin with.)

High-profile cases of serial-rapist officers leveraging the power of their badges to assault women have brought recent arrests in Los Angeles and convictions in Oklahoma City. In March, an Alabama state trooper who raped a woman when responding to her call for help after a car accident was sentenced to just six months in jail. In June, Oakland, Calif., Mayor Libby Schaaf said of a scandal involving over a dozen male officers accused of having sex with a teenage girl and supplying her with money and information, “I’m here to run a police department, not a frat house.” In 2009 and 2010, sexual misconduct was the second most frequent complaint against officers, according to the Cato Institute.

The most frequent complaint: excessive force. This topic of broad public discussion for the last couple years has rightly centered on the race of victims, but relevant too is the gender of cops: Female officers are, in general, far less brutal. They are over eight times less likely than male officers to face sustained charges of excessive force, and two to three times less likely to receive complaints. This data, compiled by the National Center for Women and Policing (NCWP) in a 2002 report, also shows that female police officers favor—and succeed with—non-physical means of interaction with suspects, though they still use force when necessary. In 1991, an independent commission formed after the videotaped beating by white officers of black motorist Rodney King highlighted similar findings to little public notice.

Preference for nonviolence does not constitute physical weakness. The NCWP report cites studies indicating that women’s typically smaller stature doesn’t hurt their survival in the field. When physical force is required, training—not brute strength—better predicts success. Meanwhile, communication skills important for defusing dangerous situations, commonly measured as higher among female officers, are under-emphasized in officer-selection standards—hiring criteria that would encourage less violent male recruits, too. In these ways, a police force over-fueled by testosterone endangers not just women but people of any gender most likely to come into contact with police, including people of color or in poverty.

As someone who grew up with cops for family and friends, I’m sensitive to reactive discourse that casts every officer in a negative light—especially concerning so harrowing a job that I doubt most critics would perform any better. As recent killings of innocent black civilians by white male cops reveal, though, our police departments reflect the unjust power paradigms of our country.

Posted in prison, women's issues | 1 Comment »

California Jails’ Inadequate Reproductive Health Services

January 20th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


A report by the ACLU of Northern California found that women in jails across the state face delayed and denied access to abortions, limited access to menstrual supplies, and pregnant women reported that food, prenatal care, and living conditions were inadequate for having a healthy pregnancy.

One pregnant inmate named Erica described an alarming response to her medical emergency: “I woke up one morning and felt a sharp shooting pain in my stomach. It was a level nine on a scale of 10 so I asked the morning pill call nurse if I could be taken to the mini-clinic to be checked out,” said Erica. “When I got to the mini-clinic, three different nurses tried to locate my baby’s heartbeat but were unable to detect it. I immediately requested an ultrasound, but the nurses told me that there were no OB/GYN’s on shift and sent me back to my cell. I was really scared because I didn’t know what was going on and I started getting more depressed as time went by because I didn’t know if my baby was alive or dead.”

The report also says that jails do not adequately protect inmates—especially transgender women in male facilities—from sexual assault, as required by the Prison Rape Elimination Act.

The report points to Los Angeles County, where the sheriff’s department vastly improved care for pregnant and postpartum women, implementing recommendations made by the ACLU following an evaluation of the county’s jail policies and practices regarding reproductive health that found delayed abortions, illegal shackling of pregnant women, and more.

The report’s first recommendation is to expand alternatives to incarceration for women, who are often low-level property and drug offenders. The report also calls on jails to collect data on inmates’ reproductive health and outcomes, examine and implement best medical practices, and adopt reproductive health care and sexual assault policies (that are inclusive of transgender people).

Posted in women's issues | No Comments »

The LA Jail Construction Re-Vote

September 2nd, 2015 by Taylor Walker


On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors once again voted to approve the construction of a 3,885-bed facility to replace the aging Men’s Central Jail as well as a women’s facility at Mira Loma detention center.

The Supervisors did not veer from their original jail vote on Aug. 11, which was found to be in violation of CA’s open meetings law.

Because the jail proposal was attached to a major plan to divert the mentally ill from county jails, the Supes also replicated their original vote on the diversion program, but not without first hearing from advocates and others calling for a smaller (or in some cases, larger) jail.

LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell urged the board to bump the capacity to a flexible range of 3900-4900 beds, saying, “We have now received three independent sets of population projections that all show the jail population is trending upward…and they have come back, by and large, with the same projections, the same calculated bed needs, and the same recommendations.”

The SoCal ACLU’s legal director, Peter Eliasberg, said, “If you want to improve public safety, building jails is not really the way to do it for people with mental illness and co-occurring disorders.” Eliasberg still calls 3,885 too large, but says it’s far better than a 4,600-bed jail. (The 4,600 was recommended by Health Management Associates. Read more about their problematic report and about the jail size debate: here.)

The board also unanimously approved an amendment by Supes Hilda Solis and Sheila Kuehl to create a gender-responsive committee to look into how to best reduce the negative impact of housing women in the very remote Mira Loma jail, far from their families and communities.

“The Mira Loma jail will be a four-hour one-way trip for a family that lives in Lynwood,” Supervisor Solis said. “It is hard to see how these women will have sufficient access to visitors, programs and medical care.”

Posted in LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, women's issues | 10 Comments »

Report Recommends Continuing Effective Women’s Diversion Court in LA

September 1st, 2015 by Taylor Walker


An important LA County diversion program, the Second Chance Women’s Reentry Court (WRC), is slated to be defunded in December 2015, after receiving a six-month extension in June.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has conducted an assessment on whether to keep the program funded past its scheduled end-date in December.

After running the numbers, the Department of Public Health recommends extending the program, which according to DPH, saves the county money, keeps women out of lock-up, and helps women build better lives for themselves and their families. (We at WLA agree, and hope that the program will be saved.)


The program, which has helped more than 300 women since its inception, is a multi-agency effort between the District Attorney’s Office, Public Defender’s Office, Department of Probation, LA County Superior Court, California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation, County Criminal Justice Coordination Committee, and the Department of Public Health’s Substance Abuse and Prevention Control Program.

By participating in the WRC, women charged with non-serious felonies or probation violations take part in at least a six-month residential program and then up to a year of outpatient care instead of serving a jail sentence. The alternative court program relies on evidence-based, trauma-informed, and gender-specific strategies to treat women’s underlying issues, rather than punish alleged offenses.

Women in the program receive mental health services and substance abuse treatment, as well as help with housing and employment and family reunification services, when needed.


In the three years after graduating from the program in 2011-2012, 18% of WRC participants had come back into contact with the criminal justice system, compared with a recidivism rate of nearly 50% for women released from CA prisons in 2008-2009.

The rate of homelessness was cut in half for women coming out of the court program than when they were admitted. Women also built better relationships with their families and kids, and had significantly higher rates of employment and school enrollment.

The assessment also found that women who received the gender-specific treatment were one-fifth as likely to exhibit signs of PTSD a year after the end of the program, as compared with women who did not receive gender-specific help.

“Women constitute the fastest-growing segment of people in U.S. jails and prisons,” said LA County’s Interim Health Officer Jeffrey Gunzenhauser. “Women in the criminal justice system often suffer from mental health problems, chronic drug and alcohol addictions, and trauma histories, and are more likely than men to be the primary caretaker of children prior to incarceration.”


Besides extending the program, the Public Health Department also recommends boosting the number of programs like WRC that serve women with co-occurring substance abuse and mental health issues.

The assessment also calls for increased staff numbers to provide more help for women transitioning between residential and outpatient treatment through WRC, and for those graduating from the WRC.


Be sure to check our updated version of last night’s story.

Posted in Courts, PTSD, Reentry, Rehabilitation, Trauma, women's issues | No Comments »

“Black Girls Matter,” Refugee Camps, Life as a Black Cop, LA Jail Suicides Down

February 9th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


In the United States, black girls experience racially disparate school discipline at significantly higher rates than black boys (vs. white girls and white boys). US Department of Education data for the 2011-2012 school year reveals that while black boys are suspended three times more often than their white counterparts, black girls are suspended six times more often than their white peers.

In New York City and Boston, where more black kids are enrolled into the school systems than white kids, the disparity is even more stark. Black girls in NYC and Boston are 10 and 11 times more likely to be suspended than white girls, respectively.

A report from Columbia Law School and the African American Policy Forum, analyzed this data along with personal experiences from interviews with young black girls in New York City and Boston between 2012-2013.

Among other findings of the report, girls felt that zero-tolerance school policies were not conducive to a positive learning environment, and often dissuaded them from attending school altogether. Girls said that increased police and security presence, as well as metal detectors made them feel uncomfortable and less safe. Girls also reported receiving more severe discipline than boys for the same infractions.

A law professor at UCLA and lead author on the report, Kimberlé Crenshaw, said, “As public concern mounts for the needs of men and boys of color through initiatives like the White House’s My Brother’s Keeper, we must challenge the assumption that the lives of girls and women—who are often left out of the national conversation—are not also at risk.”

The report recommends equal funding for supporting girls and women of color as boys and men of color, as well as boosted data collection, research, advocacy, and programs.

Here are clips from a few more of the report’s findings…

The failure of schools to intervene in the sexual harassment and bullying of girls contributes to their insecurity at school:

Participants and stakeholders addressed the consequences of sexually harassing behavior, physical and sexual assault, and bullying. The emphasis on harsh disciplinary measures did little to curb such behavior. In fact, zero-tolerance policies sometimes exacerbated the sense of vulnerability experienced by girls because they feared they would be penalized for defending themselves against aggressive behavior. One participant recalled that her long history of suspensions and expulsions began with what she believed to be an unfair punishment in response to assaultive behavior by a male classmate:

This boy kept spitting those little spitballs through a straw at me while we were taking a test. I told the teacher, and he told him to stop, but he didn’t. He kept on doing it. I yelled at him. He punched me in the face, like my eye. My eye was swollen. I don’t remember if I fought him. That’s how it ended. We both got suspended. I was like, ‘Did I get suspended?’ I was, like, a victim.

Stakeholders observed that teachers were some times unprepared to resolve matters associated with sexually harassing behavior.

It was remarkable how teachers have a culture of sweeping it under the rug. They will say that ‘boys will be boys’; ‘this is sexual awakening.’ Yet they know all the gossip, they know all the stuff that is happening. . . . [T]hey even talked about girls feeling shamed coming to school, like they can’t concentrate because the boys are making comments – lewd comments – constantly pressuring them to have sex with them. Slapping their butts and bras, and just sort of forcing themselves on them against the wall or the locker. . . .

Girls sometimes resort to “acting out” when their counseling needs are overlooked or disregarded:

In environments in which discipline is foregrounded over counseling, girls who seek help in response to traumatic experiences or who have other unmet needs may gain the attention of school personnel only when they “show their face” (act out) in ways that prompt disciplinary intervention:

The only way they’re going to know there’s something wrong with you is if you show your face. If you try . . . to go in there, try to sit there, one on one, they can automatically think you’re there to waste time and not to go to class. It’s like they shutting down on us.

This point was augmented by stakeholders who noted that some of the behavior that triggers the suspension or expulsion of girls may reflect the consequences of untreated trauma. While the problem of undiagnosed needs is not exclusive to girls, their concerns may be harder to address prior to a punishable act:

I think girls tend to not express the trauma . . . and that is a big problem. In the school you focus on the people who are acting out so some are getting their needs met, but this doesn’t mean that those that aren’t acting out are not in need. It plays itself out later on. . .

…and recommendations:

Review and revise policies that funnel girls into the juvenile justice system:

The lack of counseling and other effective conflict intervention strategies leads many girls into contact with the juvenile justice system. Schools should review their current policies and develop more robust measures to ensure that student conflict is not unwarrantedly subjected to criminal sanctions.

Devise programs that identify the signs of sexual victimization in order to support girls who have been traumatized by violence:

Schools must train educators to identify signs of sexual abuse and respond with therapeutic interventions. In so doing, they should develop protocols and policies that streamline their responses to suspected instances of abuse.

Advance and expand programs that support girls who are pregnant, parenting, or otherwise assuming significant familial responsibilities:

Lack of childcare, strict attendance policies, unsafe campuses, and untrained administrators contribute to school push-out of pregnant or parenting girls. Schools, stakeholders, and advocates must work to create policies that are sensitive to the needs of pregnant girls as well as girls who take on significant caretaking responsibilities.


The NY Times Magazine’s current cover story by Wil Hylton takes a look at America’s controversial detention camps chock-full of women and children refugees fleeing from violence in Central America.

In these family camps, mothers are regularly held without bond (and without guaranteed legal representation), and kids’ health and schooling needs often go unmet.

Here’s how Hylton’s story opens:

Christina Brown pulled into the refugee camp after an eight-hour drive across the desert. It was late July of last year, and Brown was a 30-year-old immigration lawyer. She had spent a few years after college working on political campaigns, but her law degree was barely a year old, and she had only two clients in her private practice in Denver. When other lawyers told her that the federal government was opening a massive detention center for immigrants in southeastern New Mexico, where hundreds of women and children would be housed in metal trailers surrounded by barbed wire, Brown decided to volunteer legal services to the detainees. She wasn’t sure exactly what rights they might have, but she wanted to make sure they got them. She packed enough clothes to last a week, stopped by Target to pick up coloring books and toys and started driving south.

As she pulled into the dusty town of Artesia, she realized that she still had no idea what to expect. The new detention center was just north of town, behind a guard station in a sprawling complex with restricted access. Two other volunteers had been in town for about a week and had permission from federal officials to access the compound the following day.

Brown spent the night at a motel, then drove to the detention camp in the morning. She stood in the wind-swept parking lot with the other lawyers, overlooking the barren plains of the eastern plateau. After a few minutes, a transport van emerged from the facility to pick them up. It swung to a stop in the parking lot, and the attorneys filed on. They sat on the cold metal benches and stared through the caged windows as the bus rolled back into the compound and across the bleak brown landscape. It came to a stop by a small trailer, and the lawyers shuffled out.

As they opened the door to the trailer, Brown felt a blast of cold air. The front room was empty except for two small desks arranged near the center. A door in the back opened to reveal dozens of young women and children huddled together. Many were gaunt and malnourished, with dark circles under their eyes. “The kids were really sick,” Brown told me later. “A lot of the moms were holding them in their arms, even the older kids — holding them like babies, and they’re screaming and crying, and some of them are lying there listlessly.”

Brown took a seat at a desk, and a guard brought a woman to meet her. Brown asked the woman in Spanish how she ended up in detention. The woman explained that she had to escape from her home in El Salvador when gangs targeted her family. “Her husband had just been murdered, and she and her kids found his body,” Brown recalls. “After he was murdered, the gang started coming after her and threatening to kill her.” Brown agreed to help the woman apply for political asylum in the United States, explaining that it might be possible to pay a small bond and then live with friends or relatives while she waited for an asylum hearing. When the woman returned to the back room, Brown met with another, who was fleeing gangs in Guatemala. Then she met another young woman, who fled violence in Honduras. “They were all just breaking down,” Brown said. “They were telling us that they were afraid to go home. They were crying, saying they were scared for themselves and their children. It was a constant refrain: ‘I’ll die if I go back.’ ”

Do yourself a favor and read the rest of this fantastic (and lengthy) story.


As a black police officer in the city of San Bernardino, CA, Darren Sims is a minority on both sides of the badge.

According to 2011 Census data, San Bernardino has the highest poverty level of a city with a population over 200,000 in California, and the second highest nationally (behind Detroit). San Bernardino’s crime rates are also significantly higher than the state and national averages.

San Bernardino has struggled with creating a police department representative of the city’s population. Around 9% of SBPD officers are black, compared with a 15% black community. Latinos comprise just 28% of the police force, in contrast to 60% of citizens. And the department and city are 59% and 19% white, respectively.

In an interview with Bloomberg’s Esme Deprez, Sims shares what it’s like to be a black cop in San Bernardino. Here are some clips:

For Sims, the combination of black skin and blue uniform makes him feel, by turns, like a threat and a target. Last summer, his beat partner almost died after being shot in the head, an event that still haunts him. He empathizes with minorities who feel unfairly treated, yet he’s also been the target of their scorn. As an officer, he says, he upholds the law, regardless of a lawbreaker’s race.

San Bernardino, a city of 214,000 people 60 miles east of Los Angeles, has long been one of the most dangerous of its size. Things have gotten only worse after the city declared bankruptcy in August 2012. The police force has shrunk to 230 officers from more than 350. Homicides surged to 46 in 2013 from 32 in 2009.

Those numbers are why Sims, who grew up in nearby Riverside, wanted to join the department: Higher crime means more people in need of protection. In August 2013, he was sworn in, following stints counseling troubled youth at group homes, supervising park workers in nearby Moreno Valley and playing football at Kentucky State University.

Sims describes those drawn to policing as protectors of everyday citizens — sheep — from criminals intent on doing harm — wolves.

“Racism does exist,” he said recently, after an all-night shift. “I don’t believe it’s the underlying factor, the underlying thing, that drives law enforcement to oppress a certain person, a type of people, a certain demographic of people.”


In uniform, his medium-brown skin invites taunts: Oreo, sellout, Uncle Tom. The ugly names have increased since Ferguson, Sims says. Now, as he approaches people, they’ll often raise both hands and say, “Don’t shoot,” as some witnesses said Michael Brown did.

“They don’t view us as being black,” Sims said. “They view us as being a cop.”

Those views were once his own. Growing up in a gang-infested neighborhood, Sims listened to rap music that glorified cop-killing, and shared his friends’ conviction that police were to be shunned. Now, on patrol, he is reminded of that sentiment by “187 SBPD” graffiti, referring to the penal code for murder and the San Bernardino Police Department….

The way to demolish barriers between police and community is a mutual exchange of respect, Sims says. He prides himself on talking with suspects as he would with his watch commander — or grandmother.


Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department data shows that inmate suicides dropped from 10 in 2013 to 5 in 2014. The decrease follows a year after the US Department of Justice released a report criticizing the county’s treatment of mentally ill inmates—with particular reference to the suicide count—and said it would seek a consent decree.

KPCC’s Andrea Gardner has more on the numbers. Here’s a clip:

Sheriff’s spokeswoman Kelley Frasier said deputies and mental health professionals have set suicide reduction as a top priority. For instance, after noticing a trend in higher rates of attempted suicide among inmates housed in “single-man cells,” she said they changed the practice.

“We came to the table and we said, ‘let’s make a conscious effort, let’s not put them in single-man cells,’ ” she said.

In other cases, more mental health teams were dispatched to check on isolated inmates more often.

Instances of serious self-harm—like cutting and attempted suicide—also dropped significantly in 2014 from 2013, to 71 from 110 documented cases.

Posted in Department of Justice, Education, immigration, LA County Jail, Mental Illness, racial justice, women's issues, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

Middle School Dropouts, Bill Passes to End Prison Sterilizations, Ferguson Protests…and More

August 21st, 2014 by Taylor Walker


More than 6,400 California middle-schoolers (7th and 8th graders) dropped out of school in the 2012-2013 year, more than 1,000 of which were LAUSD students. The number seems relatively low when compared with California’s more than 94,000 high school dropouts each year, so these younger kids are often overlooked and underserved. Most schools do not even have the resources to track them down once they stop showing up.

KPCC’s Sarah Butrymowicz takes a closer look at the issue in a story produced by the Hechinger Report. Here’s how it opens:

Devon Sanford’s mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer when he was in the eighth grade. After barely finishing at Henry Clay Middle School in South Los Angeles, he never enrolled in high school. He spent what should have been his freshman year caring for his mother and waiting for police to show up asking why he wasn’t in school.

No one ever came.

“That was the crazy part,” he said. “Nobody called or nothing.”

Thousands of students in California public schools never make it to the ninth grade. According to state officials, 7th and 8th grade dropouts added up to more than 6,400 in the 2012-13 school year – more than 1,000 in the Los Angeles Unified School District alone.

Like Sanford, many of them just disappeared after middle school and never signed up for high school.

But their numbers are so tiny in comparison to California’s more than 94,000 high school dropouts each year that few school districts are paying attention to middle school dropouts.

One sign of the inattention: a 2009 state law mandating California education officials calculate a middle school dropout rate has gone largely ignored, although districts do publicly report the raw numbers.


Last year, the Center for Investigative Reporting found that California prison doctors performed 148 unlawful (and ethically questionable) tubal ligations (or “tube-tying”) on female inmates in violation of state law, often without proper legal consent from the women, between 2006 and 2010.

On Tuesday, the state Senate unanimously passed a bill, SB 1135, that would prohibit prisoner sterilizations as a means of birth control, except in the event of a medical emergency or treating an illness.

The bill, now headed for the governor’s desk, would also require the CDCR to provide counseling to women receiving the procedure, as well as post data online about any sterilizations performed. The bill would also provide safeguards for those who might report future misconduct.

Gov. Jerry Brown has until Sept. 30 to sign (or not sign) the bill into law.

CIR’s Corey G. Johnson has more on the bill. Here’s a clip:

The bill, passed unanimously today by the state Senate, would ban sterilizations for birth control purposes in all state prisons, county jails and other detention centers. Surgeries would be restricted to treating life-threatening medical emergencies and addressing physical ailments.

Women would receive extensive counseling, and correctional facilities performing such surgeries would be required to post data about the procedures online. The bill also protects whistleblowers from retaliation for reporting violations.

Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, pushed for the bill after The Center of Investigative Reporting found more than 130 women received tubal ligations in violation of prison rules from 2006 to 2010. Former inmates and prisoner advocates told CIR that prison medical staff pressured women, targeting inmates deemed likely to return to prison in the future.

“It’s clear that we need to do more to make sure that forced or coerced sterilizations never again occur in our jails and prisons,” Jackson said. “Pressuring a vulnerable population into making permanent reproductive choices without informed consent violates our most basic human rights.”


NBC’s Andrew Blankstein and Tom Winter have delved into why protests over Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, MO, spiraled out of control, while nearby protests over an unconnected fatal shooting of a young black man did not turn violent. Here’s how it opens:

The fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager on Aug. 9 in Ferguson, Missouri has led to angry protests and violent clashes with police that reached a fresh crescendo earlier this week. A second, unrelated fatal police shooting of a young black man just a few miles east on Tuesday, however, sparked protests, but no violence.

Why did events spiral out of control in Ferguson? Why did this little-known St. Louis suburb, with just 21,000 people, explode into more than a week of unrest? Part of the problem seems to have been a series of missteps by local authorities.

Experts from around the nation, including law enforcement officials, academics and civil rights attorneys, cite four factors: A poisoned relationship between a virtually all-white police force and a majority black city; heavy-handed police tactics both before and after the shooting — including a military-style response to the initial protests; and mixed messages from local authorities, some of whom attempted to focus attention on an alleged robbery by the dead teen, Michael Brown, instead of updating the public about the investigation into Brown’s death.

“Put that all together and you have a ready-made disaster,” L.A.-based civil rights attorney Connie Rice told NBC News.

The Police vs. the Public: Rice and others said most of the problems in Ferguson flowed from the almost non-existent connection between the city’s police and its residents. Detective Gabe Crocker, president of the St. Louis County Police Association, which represents many of the area’s officers, told NBC News he thought there had been early friction in Ferguson between police and protesters because there had been “no established lines of communication with community leaders.”

While two-thirds of Ferguson’s citizens are African-American, there are only three blacks on its 53-member police force. Where larger urban departments like the NYPD have used so-called “community-based policing” in recent years to build trust with a diverse public, Ferguson focused on old-fashioned top-down policing and revenue generation. That meant most contact with civilians involved traffic stops and writing tickets – an extraordinary number of tickets for traffic and other offenses. Jeff Smith, an assistant professor of politics at the New School in New York City and a former resident and legislator in St. Louis County, described Ferguson as “a constant, simmering state of tension and mistrust.” Smith said community policing could have reduced tensions, but that “it’s like (Ferguson) missed the whole phenomenon.”


Changing the Subject: Two related moves last week appeared to defuse tensions. Missouri State Police took over command of the scene from the local cops, and designated Capt. Ron Johnson, an African-American who grew up near Ferguson, as the on-site commander and liaison with the community.

But then Ferguson Police Department Chief Thomas Jackson held a press conference and released documents and surveillance video — over Justice Department objections — allegedly showing that Michael Brown had robbed a convenience store a short time before he was fatally shot. Hours later, Jackson held another press conference to announce that the white officer accused of shooting Brown was unaware of Brown’s alleged involvement in the robbery when he shot him.

Eric Rose, a crisis management expert who advises police organizations across the country, called Jackson’s revelations “foolish,” saying they served “to further incite tensions.”

“The goal should have been to calm things down,” said Rose. “Releasing that information did not serve that purpose.” In high-profile cases, he said, “You never want to go public without truly knowing all the facts and you want to have a clear strategy. In this case, the stakes of being wrong could have meant riots. And that’s exactly what happened.”


At the end of June, the LA County Board of Supervisors appointed a nine-member transition team to assist in the creation of a child welfare czar meant to oversee the implementation of child welfare reforms suggested by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection.

On Tuesday, in their first progress report to the Board of Supervisors, transition team members outlined qualifications the Office of Child Protection should have. Co-chairs Leslie Gilbert-Lurie and Mitchell Katz and team member Janet Teague also asked for an executive director to keep the group focused and moving forward on reforms until the czar can be put in place.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said that the hiring of a child welfare czar was of higher importance than the hiring of an executive director, and that the BOS never approved staff for the transition team. Yaroslavsky also suggested that there might be a calculated delay on hiring a czar until he and Supe Gloria Molina are termed out of office in December.

Supe Mark Ridley-Thomas urged the board to continue implementing the Blue Ribbon Commission’s other recommendations while the search for a czar continues.

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

In its first report to the Board of Supervisors, transition team co-chairs Leslie Gilbert-Lurie and Mitchell Katz and team member Janet Teague presented the group’s work over the course of the past month. Those efforts have largely centered on clarifying the role and desired qualifications of the incoming director of the Office of Child Protection.

“The founding director of the Office of Child Protection will have the opportunity to forge a transformational process for the children of Los Angeles County and we hope you see it the same way,” Gilbert-Lurie said while addressing the Board of Supervisors at the August 19 meeting.

But the transition team remains hindered by confusion about its responsibilities beyond assisting in the search for a leader of the new office and questions about staffing support that team members say would help speed up the implementation of reforms suggested by the Blue Ribbon Commission.

“What bothers me is that we’re not seeing eye to eye on what’s the most important thing for us,” said Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. “The most important thing is getting the Office of Child Protection person hired. The search firm in my opinion is moving very slowly, too slowly, and is responding to too many people. It’s August 19 and we’re no closer to hiring, or even searching for the office of child protection than we were a month ago.”

Transition team member Gilbert-Lurie argued that the team needs additional resources and support in the form of an executive director to accelerate efforts at implementing further recommendations.

“You have herded a group with a wide range of talents—we have doctors, Ph.D.s, judges, lawyers,” Gilbert-Lurie said. “But we need someone whose eye is on the ball of moving this forward. We believe there’s a lot of information that could be helpful in working with department heads. [We could] leverage the best of what you have in the county if there is someone available to take our ideas and help implement them when we’re working in our day jobs. We don’t believe we have access to that sort of person with that executive experience right now on a full enough time basis.”

Posted in DCFS, Education, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAUSD, Police, prison, women's issues | 18 Comments »

Juvenile Lifers and What They Face in the System….”My Brother’s Keeper” Leaves out the Girls….CA Bill Would Bring “Religious Freedom” into Child Welfare…and More

July 31st, 2014 by Taylor Walker


Data and discussions about the causal effects of childhood traumatic stress in minors who commit crimes is replacing the “superpredator” fear-mongering of the 90′s. Still, more than 2000 people in the United States have been sentenced to life in prison for crimes they committed as minors—300 of them in California. And when kids sentenced as adults reach lockup, they are treated worse than adults. often placed in solitary confinement, or worse, in the name of keeping them safe—despite opposition from the UN and research showing how prolonged isolation exacerbates existing trauma and can lead to mental illness.

Joshua Rofé has more on the issue for LA Weekly. Here’s a clip:

The extreme violence of the early 1990s in places such as Compton, South Los Angeles and the Eastside helped spawn public fear of the juvenile super-predator and the thrill killer.

But, as psychologist and juvenile justice consultant Marty Beyer showed in her study of juvenile intent, most of these youths were marred by severe trauma long before they pulled the trigger or plunged the knife.

Such experts say that juvenile lifers experience a culminating day in which the effects of trauma, violence and youth boil over into the communities or households that wittingly or unwittingly turned a blind eye.

In Jasmine’s case, the streets raised her, not her parents.

“My dad wasn’t really never in the picture,” she recalls. “I was yearning for my mom and I didn’t understand why she wasn’t there. She worked double shifts, like, 16 hours a day. This is not an excuse, this is just the way it was for me coming up.”

At 14, she’d acquitted herself well during gang initiation. “I had to fight all the girls in my neighborhood. All at the same time. I come from three brothers, so I really knew how to fight. So it wasn’t that easy to get me down.”

Two years later, she shot a girl she didn’t know. Her court-appointed public defender assured her that she’d be tried as a juvenile and then placed in a California Youth Authority facility for seven years.

Instead, Jasmine was sent into the much tougher adult court system.

“I really did not even understand what was going on,” she says. “The lawyer just kept telling me, ‘Say yes. Say yes.’ Next thing I know, I’m pleading guilty and there’s no trial. They give me a life sentence.”

In the United States, more than 2,000 children have been sentenced to life in prison for crimes committed when they were 17 or younger.

Two years ago, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law giving California’s 300 lifer children a chance at parole after 15 years — if they did not kill a cop or torture their victim. Now, often having reached middle age in prison, like Jasmine, some have been freed.

Beyond this, child advocates say it’s past the time to offer serious help to children who kill.

Katharine C. Staley, associate director of the Justice Center for Research at Penn State University, says children develop traumatic stress, a cousin to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), “when either the stressor is huge and just completely unexpected, and overwhelms any ability to cope with it, like a school shooting, for example; or, as is much more often the case, when the stressor is significant, unpredictable — frequently repeated.”

Some children kill an adult tormentor who raped or tortured them — often a parent, relative or family friend. Others are set off by “being exposed to ongoing violence between parents or gang members.”

Jasmine’s initial week in an adult prison set the stage for her horrifying life there. Juveniles often are placed in solitary confinement, also known as “segregated housing” — for their own safety, according to prison officials.

But at age 17, when Jasmine was processed and admitted, all the solitary confinement cells at California Institute for Women in San Bernardino County were occupied. A quick decision was reached: This girl would be housed on Death Row.

You can watch Joshua Rofé’s documentary “Lost for Life,” (trailer above) on iTunes.


President Barack Obama launched a $200 million initiative to help boys and young men of color break free of the school-to-prison-pipeline and build successful lives.

Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, law professor at Columbia University and UCLA, and executive director of the African American Policy Forum, points out that My Brother’s Keeper overlooks girls and young women of color, who face similar disparities and hardships and need just as much support.

Black girls are suspended more than any other girls. They are also more likely than other girls to be sex-trafficked or die violently.

In her op-ed for the New York Times, Crenshaw calls the initiative an “abandonment of women of color” by Obama. Here’s a clip:

Gender exclusivity isn’t new, but it hasn’t been so starkly articulated as public policy in generations. It arises from the common belief that black men are exceptionally endangered by racism, occupying the bottom of every metric: especially school performance, work force participation and involvement with the criminal justice system. Black women are better off, the argument goes, and are thus less in need of targeted efforts to improve their lives. The White House is not the author of this myth, but is now its most influential promoter.

The evidence supporting these claims is often illogical, selective or just plain wrong. In February, when Mr. Obama announced the initiative — which is principally financed by philanthropic foundations, and did not require federal appropriations — he noted that boys who grew up without a father were more likely to be poor. More likely than whom? Certainly not their sisters, who are growing up in the same households, attending the same underfunded schools and living in the same neighborhoods.

The question “compared with whom?” often focuses on racial disparities among boys and men while overlooking similar disparities among girls and women. Yet, like their male counterparts, black and Hispanic girls are at or near the bottom level of reading and math scores. Black girls have the highest levels of school suspension of any girls. They also face gender-specific risks: They are more likely than other girls to be victims of domestic violence and sex trafficking, more likely to be involved in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems, and more likely to die violently. The disparities among girls of different races are sometimes even greater than among boys.

Proponents of My Brother’s Keeper — and similar programs, like the Young Men’s Initiative, begun by Michael R. Bloomberg in 2011 when he was mayor of New York — point incessantly to mass incarceration to explain their focus on men. Is their point that females of color must pull even with males in a race to the bottom before they deserve interventions on their behalf?

Women of color earn less than both white men and their male counterparts from the same ethnic or racial groups, across the spectrum. Even more disturbing: the median wealth of single black and Hispanic women is $100 and $120, respectively — compared with almost $7,900 for black men, $9,730 for Hispanic men and $41,500 for white women.

Read on.


A California bill introduced Wednesday would protect religious child welfare providers from losing government funding and contracts for discriminating against gays or unmarried heterosexual couples or anyone else who conflicts “with the provider’s sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions.” The Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act of 2014 is co-sponsored by Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.).

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Brian Rinker has more on the bill. Here’s a clip:

Many private providers of adoption and foster care services are faith-based organizations, which contract with the state to recruit adoptive/foster parents. Some religious providers only recruit married men and women to be foster parents, refusing to serve same sex or unmarried couples because of their religious beliefs.

A handful of states have enacted civil union and same-sex marriage policies that strip the funding and contracts from faith-based organizations that refuse to incorporate those practices in their adoption and foster care services.

“Limiting their work because someone might disagree with what they believe only ends up hurting the families they could be bringing together,” said Enzi in a press release. “This legislation will help make sure faith-based providers and individuals can continue to work alongside other agencies and organizations, and that adoptive and foster parents have access to providers of their choice.”


On Monday, the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Virginia’s gay marriage ban unconstitutional. The ruling is a far-reaching one, as the Appeals Court has jurisdiction over North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia and Maryland, as well.

Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern has more on the ruling.

Posted in LGBT, LWOP Kids, racial justice, Sentencing, solitary, Trauma, women's issues | 7 Comments »

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

June 30th, 2014 by Taylor Walker


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

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

The rest of the winners can be found here.


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

Here’s a clip:

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

KPCC has the story.

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

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

June 20th, 2014 by Taylor Walker


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Read on.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Youth working to help financially support the family

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

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

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

Be sure to read the rest.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LA’s New Program to Tackle Recidivism, Funding the New Jail Plan, KPPC Interviews Todd Rogers, and R.I.P. Farley Mowat

May 9th, 2014 by Taylor Walker


On Thursday, California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced a welcome new LA County recidivism-reduction pilot program called “Back on Track LA.”

Participants will receive a case manager and 12-18 months of education and other crucial re-entry services while incarcerated, and 12 more months of services once they are released. Inmates eligible for participation will be non-violent non-sexual offenders between the ages of 18-30.

Here’s a clip from AG Harris’ website:

“We must reject the false choice of being ‘tough’ or ‘soft’ on crime,” Attorney General Harris said. “It is time for smart on crime policies that keep our communities safe, hold offenders accountable, and reduce our prison population. Back on Track LA will work to reduce levels of recidivism by connecting offenders with the education and job opportunities that get their lives back on track.”

The “Back on Track LA” pilot program will deliver critical education and comprehensive re-entry services before and after an individual is released from jail. The pilot program will build on LASD’s “Education Based Incarceration Program,” through a partnership with the Los Angeles Community College District – specifically, Los Angeles Mission College and Los Angeles Trade Tech College to provide higher education opportunities for incarcerated participants that include prerequisites to community college degrees, credentials and certificates. The program will focus on the critical time following an individual’s release from jail, by providing the seamless re-entry services essential for success, including employment and life skill services.

“Back on Track LA” will emphasize accountability by assigning participants a case manager or coach to develop a plan that holds individuals accountable to their families, communities and victims.

Individuals will be enrolled in the pilot program for 24-30 months—divided into 12-18 months in-custody and 12 months out-of-custody. Participants will consist of non-serious, non-violent and non-sexual crime offenders between the ages of 18 to 30 years old who are incarcerated in the LASD jail system following the implementation of Public Safety Realignment.


Now that the Los Angeles County Supervisors have approved a plan for replacing the crumbling Men’s Central Jail with a price tag nearing the $2 billion mark, county officials have to figure out how to fund such a costly undertaking. The county will likely have to issue bonds, which could require a tax increase, but there may be additional ways to pay for the new jail.

The LA Daily News’ Christina Villacorte has the story. Here’s a clip:

As with most big government projects, the funds are likely to come from borrowing through the issuance of bonds. But whether repaying those bonds will require a tax increase is yet to be determined.

“There’s no other way to fund this than out of the general fund, so the county is going to have to borrow money,” Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said in an interview.

He warned that servicing the debt, and paying the interest, would be “very expensive.”

But Chief Executive Officer William Fujioka said the county seems to have the capacity to issue bonds for the jail plan, which includes tearing down Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles and then building a Consolidated Correctional Treatment Facility in its place, as well as renovating Mira Loma Detention Center to accommodate female inmates.

“Right now, our level of debt is extremely low, very low,” Fujioka said Tuesday in response to a question from Supervisor Michael Antonovich during a public hearing.


Voter approval would be necessary if the county were to issue general obligation bonds, which would likely be repaid through a tax increase. But for previous infrastructure projects such as the Bob Hope Patriotic Hall and the acquisition of electronic health records systems, the county instead issued general indebtedness bonds, which do not have to be placed on the ballot for approval and don’t require tax increases.

County Assistant CEO Ryan Alsop said another way to finance the jail plan is by asking the state of California to cover at least a portion of the bill. He pointed out AB 109, also known as Gov. Jerry Brown’s prison realignment program, diverted thousands of inmates from state prisons to local jails.

“As a result of AB 109, Los Angeles County is now operating the population equivalent of two to three state prisons without the necessary infrastructure or adequate resources to do so,” Alsop said. “Something must be done.”

“The governor has proposed $500 million towards (jail funding) in his January budget, most of which we would like to see allocated to counties like Los Angeles, who have been hit the hardest by AB 109,” he added.


The board gave the CEO up to 60 days to come up with a plan for financing the infrastructure projects, but Yaroslavsky is worried that the $1.7 billion price tag may be understated.

He said Vanir Construction Management, which provided the estimate, said the numbers should change.

“They told the board that the (almost) $2 billion estimate of construction could go up by 30 percent, could go down by 30 percent,” he said.

Read on.


KPCC’s Frank Stoltze interviews Assistant Sheriff Todd Rogers as part of Stoltze’s ongoing series on the LASD Sheriff’s candidates. (Stoltze also has profiles on James Hellmold, Bob Olmsted, Paul Tanaka, and Jim McDonnell that are worth reading, if you missed them.)

Here’s a clip from the Rogers story:

Rogers, 52, is relatively new to the position of assistant sheriff. Only a handful of people hold that rank, which is just below the undersheriff — the number two person in the department.

Last year, then-Sheriff Lee Baca promoted Rogers to assistant cheriff from his rank as commander, leapfrogging the rank of chief. Some have accused Rogers of cutting a deal with Baca by promising not to run against him. Rogers had been weighing a challenge to the powerful sheriff for several years.

“I did not sell my soul,” Rogers says. “I agreed to help him reform the Department.”

When Baca abruptly resigned in January, he named Rogers as a “highly qualified” candidate, prompting some to suggest he is too close to the old regime to be a reformer.

Rogers says while he respected the sheriff for some of his policies, there clearly was a “catastrophic failure of leadership.” He and Baca had “plenty of differences,” especially over the sheriff’s penchant for pet programs. One program involved assigning deputies to monitor social media.

“We had over 400 deputies on loan from street patrols to these unfunded programs,” said Rogers, who oversees the department $2.8 billion budget.

Like his fellow candidates, Rogers doesn’t have much name recognition with voters. But his campaign got some attention for a hilarious online ad featuring the cast of Comedy Central’s former sitcom “Reno 911.” Rogers knows the cast because the show was taped at the Carson station.

This isn’t to suggest Rogers isn’t a serious law enforcement executive. He’s one of a growing number willing to look at crime as a health problem.

The 28-year veteran, who holds a master’s degree in criminal justice from Cal State Dominguez Hills, described how he began a program where a deputy developed customized treatment plans for at-risk kids and young adults in collaboration with a panel of community-based experts in Carson.

“We can’t have one cure for every disease,” Rogers says. “We can’t have one cure for every kid or young adult that shows an inclination to be a gang member.”


Farley Mowat, kilt-wearing Canadian author of 45 books, including Never Cry Wolf, has died at the age of 88.

Mowat’s publisher and friend, Doug Gibson, fondly remembers the environmentalist author on NPR’s All Things Considered. Take a listen.

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