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Youth at Risk


Helping Treatment Programs Access Funding, LAPD to Implement Discipline Recommendations, CA Attorney General Discusses Marijuana Legalization, and Montana Gets Gay Marriage

November 20th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LA SUPES MOVE TOWARD MAKING IT EASIER FOR TREATMENT AND REHABILITATION PROGRAMS TO GET FUNDING

The LA County Board of Supervisors approved a motion by Supes Don Knabe and Mark Ridley-Thomas to look at possibilities for expanding eligibility requirements for the competitive bid process for county funding, so that community treatment programs that do great work serving at-risk kids, but don’t fit into the county’s “square peg” system, can still win crucial funding.

For instance, Don Knabe said he would like to find a way to provide funding for Homeboy Industries, which cannot engage in the county’s competitive bid process because participants are not referred to Homeboy. Instead, gang members seek help at Homeboy of the own volition.

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

About 1,500 juvenile delinquents are released from Los Angeles county youth camps each year and the county spends at least $11 million annually on rehabilitation programs, according to Knabe’s office.

Most of the money goes to traditional “fee for service” programs where a juvenile offender is referred to a specific rehabilitation program after release from camp. Knabe referred to those programs as “square pegs” that fit the county mold because it’s easy to track which services were provided.

He said other successful programs that help troubled youth turn their lives around are left out.

“These are not square peg issues,” he said. “They are issues that have to be met with head-on services,” he said. “And you have to look at all the different models that may be out there.”


LAPD CHIEF CHARLIE BECK TELLS COMMISSION HE WILL IMPLEMENT RECOMMENDATIONS FROM DISCIPLINE SURVEY

An internal LA Police Department report released late last week analyzed a survey of 500 sworn officers and employees regarding the LAPD’s disciplinary practices.

Those surveyed said they felt the department discriminated based on gender, ethnicity, and rank. However, when analyzed, respondents’ perceptions of bias were not generally representative of the discipline data gathered by the department. For instance, some survey-takers said they believed minorities were treated unfairly in the disciplinary process, while others said they believed minorities received better treatment from the disciplinary process because the department feared potential lawsuits. Yet the department figures show that, for the most part, referrals to the Board of Review and terminations of latino, white, black, and asian officers were proportionate to the department’s overall ethnic composition.

The report was presented to the LA Police Commission Tuesday. In response, Charlie Beck told the police commission the department would implement recommendations from the report. Among the recommendations to be put into effect are:

- Utilizing new penalty guidelines to ensure consistency and fairness
- Gathering and analyzing Board of Review and complaint data for potential bias
- Developing an anti-nepotism policy

Other reactions to the report were mixed at the commission meeting. LA Police Protective League president Tyler Izen said he felt department officials were unfairly blaming the survey results on officers’ inadequate understanding of discipline policies, and that the report was missing information.

LA police commission president Steve Soboroff said that the report did its job—putting numbers next to claims of gender, minority, or rank-related bias—and that it was not intended to analyze every type of disparate discipline claim (like favoritism by the chief).

The LA Times’ Richard Winton, Kate Mather, and Joel Rubin have more on the the issue. Here’s a clip:

The review looked for disparities in whether officers of certain ranks, gender, or race were ordered to the hearings and ultimately penalized, concluding that data showed there was little merit to the complaints of bias.

Left unexamined, however, was the vast majority of the LAPD’s misconduct cases, which are handled by officers’ commanders.

The president of the union that represents the department’s roughly 9,900 rank-and-file officers dismissed the report Monday as a disappointment.

Tyler Izen was critical of what he said were efforts by officials to blame officers’ concerns on their poor understanding of how the discipline system works.

“They are saying the employees don’t get it…I think [officers] are afraid they are going to be fired,” he said. “I would like to see all the raw data because this report doesn’t tell me much.”

Steve Soboroff, president of the Police Commission, acknowledged that some officers believe the discipline system favors those with connections. But he praised the report, saying that it did a good job of analyzing claims of bias based on gender, rank and ethnicity. He said it would have been impossible to quantify all the complaints of disparities in punishments.

“You’ve got a perception that if you’re a friend of the chief’s, then all of the sudden it’s better,” Soboroff said. “You can’t quantify that. How do you do the statistics on that? So that’s a perception issue for the chief to work on. Nobody else but the chief. And he knows that.”

[SNIP]

Capt. Peter Whittingham, an outspoken critic of Beck who has sued the department over retaliation that he claims he suffered for refusing to fire an officer at a discipline hearing, said the report was “deeply disappointing.”

“I thought this was an opportunity for real transparency and for the department to show it really wants to address the core issues raised by officers,” he said.

Questions about discipline had dogged Beck before Dorner surfaced. The chief clashed repeatedly with members of the commission over what they saw as the chief’s tendency to give warnings to officers guilty of serious misconduct and the department’s track record for handing down disparate punishments for similar offenses.


CALIFORNIA ATTORNEY GENERAL KAMALA HARRIS TALKS MARIJUANA LEGALIZATION WITH BUZZFEED

California Attorney General Kamala Harris told Buzzfeed’s Adam Serwer that she has “no moral opposition” to marijuana legalization, and that it seems inevitable. Harris said a lot has to be figured out for California to make legalization a workable reality, and that she is glad that Oregon and Washington have been paving the way. Here’s a clip:

“I am not opposed to the legalization of marijuana. I’m the top cop, and so I have to look at it from a law enforcement perspective and a public safety perspective,” Harris told BuzzFeed News in an interview in Washington, D.C. “I think we are fortunate to have Colorado and Washington be in front of us on this and figuring out the details of what it looks like when it’s legalized.”

“We’re watching it happen right before our eyes in Colorado and Washington. I don’t think it’s gonna take too long to figure this out,” Harris said. “I think there’s a certain inevitability about it.”

[SNIP]

“It would be easier for me to say, ‘Let’s legalize it, let’s move on,’ and everybody would be happy. I believe that would be irresponsible of me as the top cop,” Harris said. “The detail of these things matters. For example, what’s going on right now in Colorado is they’re figuring out you gotta have a very specific system for the edibles. Maureen Dowd famously did her piece on that… There are real issues for law enforcement, [such as] how you will measure someone being under the influence in terms of impairment to drive.

“We have seen in the history of this issue for California and other states; if we don’t figure out the details for how it’s going to be legalized the feds are gonna come in, and I don’t think that’s in anyone’s best interest,” Harris said.


MONTANA BECOMES 34TH STATE TO ALLOW GAY MARRIAGE

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Brian Morris overturned Montana’s ban on gay marriage. Couples were immediately allowed to wed following the ruling. Congrats Montana (a state of which we at WLA are particularly fond)!

The Associated Press’ Lisa Baumann has the story. Here’s a clip:

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in September that Idaho and Nevada’s bans are unconstitutional. Montana is part of the 9th Circuit, and Morris cited the appeals court’s opinion in his ruling.

“The time has come for Montana to follow all the other states within the Ninth Circuit and recognize that laws that ban same-sex marriage violate the constitutional right of same-sex couples to equal protection of the laws,” he wrote.

Four same-sex couples filed a lawsuit in May challenging Montana’s ban. The plaintiffs included Angie and Tonya Rolando.

“Calling Tonya my partner, my significant other, my girlfriend, my perpetual fiancée has never done justice to our relationship,” Angie Rolando said. “Love won today.”

Posted in Charlie Beck, Homeboy Industries, LAPD, LAPPL, LGBT, Marijuana laws, Youth at Risk | No Comments »

André Birotte Gets Robed Up….Brown Foes Say Realignment Causes Crime But Stats Say Otherwise….When Mental Disabilities Lead to Harsh School Discipline….& PPOA McDonnell Interview, Part 2….

October 28th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



ANDRÉ BIROTTE SWORN IN AS FEDERAL JUDGE

By 4 p.m. on Friday night, courtroom 650 at the Edward R. Roybal Federal Building —plus two overflow rooms—were absolutely jammed with judges, lawyers, higher echelon law enforcement types, local lawmakers and others, including U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, all of whom had come to witness the formal investiture of André Birotte Jr as a United States District Judge.

Birotte, if you remember, was nominated to the federal bench by President Barack Obama on April 3, 2014, and confirmed unanimously by the Senate on July 22, 2014 (an impressive feat in itself, considering the current fractious state of that august body).

The son of Haitian immigrants, Birotte graduated from Tufts University in 1987 with a B.A. in psychology, then came to Southern California to attend Pepperdine University School of Law. He began his legal career in Los Angeles as a deputy public defender. In 1995, he moved to the prosecutorial side of things as an assistant U.S. Attorney.

In May 2003, the Los Angeles Police Commission unanimously selected Birotte to serve as the LAPD’s Inspector General at a time when the department was reeling disastrously from the aftermath of the Rampart scandal and struggling to redefine and reform itself. Birotte is generally acknowledged as a significant part of that reform.

In 2009, while he was still serving as LAPD IG, Birotte was nominated for the job of U.S. Attorney by President Barack Obama, after Senator Diane Feinstein strongly recommended him. Five years later, Feinstein again recommended him for the judgeship.

“In 15 years of [vetting] people for the senator,” said Trevor Daley, Feinstein’s state director who was tasked to check up on Birotte. “I’ve never gotten the kind of positive feedback on anyone as I did on André.”

Other speakers at the investiture were similarly effusive.

Birotte was a “champion on the individual as well as serving the underserved,” said former police commission chairman Rick Caruso. “Yet he never sought the spotlight.

Eric Holder praised Birotte for cracking down on public corruption and drug trafficking while also understanding that “we will never be able to prosecute and incarcerate our way to becoming a safer nation.” Holder also pointed to CASA, the sentencing diversion program that Birotte championed, “which serves as a model for smart on crime initiatives throughout the nation.”

Now Birotte would be “strengthening and making more fair the justice system to which he has given so much of his life,” said Holder.

When it came time for the newly-minted judge himself to speak, Birotte quoted a poetry fragment by poet Antonio Machado, that he said had influenced him.

…Wanderer, there is no road,
the road is made by walking.

Indeed, Birotte doesn’t appear to have set his sites on the positions he has attained as part of some grandly ambitious lifeplan. Instead, according to his own account, and the accounts of those who lauded him on Friday, he has arrived at the present moment by “walking,” as the poet suggests—a.k.a. by doing the work that appeared before him, while guided by a strong sense of justice and compassion.

In fact, if it had not been for his wife’s encouragement, Birotte told investiture crowd, “I’m not sure that I would have put myself out for these positions.”

Birotte thanked a long list of people (including his faithful group of morning workout partners at his gym). He confided to the crowd that among the most important talismans he brought with him into his new courtroom were “my father’s medical bag and one of the many purses that my mom would keep by her side.”

At the mention of his mom, who died just a few years ago, Birotte choked up visably. He struggled similarly when he told his wife how much she and their kids meant to him, and also when he thanked Judge Terry Hatter, who had been a longtime hero, and who swore him in. Each time, the “baby judge,” as he called himself, was refreshingly unapologetic for his unruly emotions.

Although the investiture began just after 4 p.m., more than three hours later guests still lingered at the post-ceremony reception in the Roybal building’s lobby, as if wishing to bask a bit longer in the evening’s prevailing sentiment—namely that this particular judgeship, thankfully, had landed in very good hands.


AS ELECTIONS HEAT UP BROWN OPPONENTS SAY REALIGNMENT MADE CALIF. COMMUNITIES LESS SAFE, BUT ACTUAL NUMBERS SAY OTHERWISE

As we noted yesterday, although realignment was not originally a big issue in this year’s gubernatorial campaign, now Jerry Brown’s opponents are bringing up the topic with increasing frequency. Yet, while critics’ contend that realignment has harmed public safety, the state’s still falling crime figures don’t agree. Still, when it comes to pointing to lasting victories for the governor’s signature policy, even Brown and other advocates admit that realignment is a complicated work in progress.

Don Thompson of the Associated Press has more on the story (via the Sacramento Bee). Here are some clips:

As Gov. Jerry Brown seeks re-election next month, Republicans say decisions he made to reduce prison overcrowding are endangering the public by putting more criminals on the streets.

About 13,000 inmates a month are being released early from crowded county jails while they await trial or before they complete their full sentences. More than 5,000 state prisoners had earlier releases this year because of federal court orders, legislation signed by the governor and a recently approved state ballot initiative.

Yet those statistics don’t tell the full story.

Crime rates statewide actually dropped last year and did so across all categories of violent and property offenses, from murder and rape to auto theft and larceny, according to the most recent figures from the state Department of Justice.

[BIG SNIP]

Even as crime rates have dropped, realignment is presenting challenges for counties throughout the state. The total county jail population in California has increased by nearly 11,000 inmates since realignment took effect in October 2011.

Probation departments now handle offenders whose most recent convictions are for lower-level crimes but who may have serious or violent criminal histories.

County officials also say they are ill-equipped to deal with other offenders who used to go state prisons, including those with mental illness and those serving multi-year sentences.

“The population most likely to be the most problematic is the population being funneled to the counties,” said Margarita Perez, who was acting chief of the state’s parole division before realignment took effect in October 2011 and now is assistant probation chief in Los Angeles County.

Despite the tougher population, probation officers said they are becoming better at handling those inmates.

“There’s more of a culture of tolerance, more of a culture of using any resources at your disposal to try to get this individual to turn around instead of a philosophy of lock them up,” Perez said.

Dean Pfoutz is one of those trying to benefit from the new emphasis on rehabilitation.

His roughly two decade-long criminal history includes a three-year prison sentence for assault and another eight years for an assault causing serious injury to a girlfriend. He most recently served 16 months for receiving stolen property.

Despite his violent past, he is being supervised by Sacramento County probation officers instead of state parole agents because his most recent crime, possession of stolen property, is considered a lower-level offense.

Pfoutz said he is benefiting from the county’s approach.

“It’s more hands-on here than parole. With parole, it’s like, ‘Just don’t get arrested,’” he said before attending a self-help class at the probation center he visits five days a week. “They’re pulling for us to do all right.”


SPECIAL ED LEADS TO THE JUVENILE JUSTICE SYSTEM FOR TOO MANY AMERICAN STUDENTS

Although much of the concern about the disproportionate use of over-harsh school discipline has been focused on students of color, experts are increasingly aware that kids with mental disabilities are also disproportionately pushed into the so-called school-to-prison pipeline.

Jackie Mader and Sarah Butrymowicz of the Juvenile Justice Education Exchange have the story. Here’s a clip:

Cody Beck was 12-years -old when he was handcuffed in front of several classmates and put in the back of a police car outside of Grenada Middle School. Cody had lost his temper in an argument with another student, and hit several teachers when they tried to intervene. He was taken to the local youth court, and then sent to a mental health facility two hours away from his home. Twelve days later, the sixth-grader was released from the facility and charged with three counts of assault.

Officials at his school determined the incident was a result of Cody’s disability. As a child, Cody was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He had been given an Individual Education Program, or IEP, a legal document that details the resources, accommodations, and classes that a special education student should receive to help manage his or her disability. But despite there being a medical reason for his behavior, Cody was not allowed to return to school. He was called to youth court three times in the four months after the incident happened, and was out of school for nearly half that time as he waited to start at a special private school.

Cody is one of thousands of children caught up in the juvenile justice system each year. At least one in three of those arrested has a disability, ranging from emotional disability like bipolar disorder to learning disabilities like dyslexia, and some researchers estimate the figure may be as high as 70 percent. Across the country, students with emotional disabilities are three times more likely to be arrested before leaving high school than the general population.

…..The vast majority of adults in American prisons have a disability, according to a 1997 Bureau of Justice Statistics survey. Data hasn’t been updated since, but experts attribute the high percentage of individuals with disabilities in the nation’s bloated prison population – which has grown 700 percent since 1970 – in part to deep problems in the education of children with special needs.

In Mississippi and across the country, the path to prison often starts very early for kids who struggle to manage behavioral or emotional disabilities in low-performing schools that lack mental health care, highly qualified special education teachers, and appropriately trained staff. Federal law requires schools to provide an education for kids with disabilities in an environment as close to a regular classroom as possible. But often, special needs students receive an inferior education, fall behind, and end up with few options for college or career. For youth with disabilities who end up in jail, education can be minimal, and at times, non-existent, even though federal law requires that they receive an education until age 21.



PAY TO PLAY CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS—THAT’S CLEARLY CORRUPTION, SAYS JIM MCDONNELL IN NEW PPOA INTERVIEW

In Part 2 of the 3-part interview series that PPOA Prez Brian Moriguchi has conducted with Los Angeles County Sheriff candidate Jim McDonnell, the candidate talks about personnel issues, like promotion strategies, and other matters that have been subject to corruption at the LASD in the past—plus how he plans to “put the shine back” on the badge “that means the world” to so many officers.


ALSO, SEE REPORT ON WEEKEND FORUM WITH MCDONNELL BY FRANK STOLTZE

KPPC’S Frank Stoltze reports that Jim McDonnell, the frontrunner for Los Angeles County Sheriff, “…is not yet prepared to support subpoena power for a proposed citizen’s oversight panel, although authority watchdogs say is important to reforming the troubled department.”

Read the rest of Stoltze’s report here.

Posted in Board of Supervisors, Courts, Education, elections, Jim McDonnell, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Realignment, School to Prison Pipeline, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney, Youth at Risk, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 2 Comments »

New Program to Help Kids Get to School Safely, Bill to Defer Sentencing on Certain Misdemeanors, No Nationwide Data on Police Shootings, and Celebrating Successful Family Reunifications

September 11th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

CITY ATTORNEY ANNOUNCES PROGRAM TO REDUCE TRUANCY BY HELPING KIDS GET TO SCHOOL SAFELY

Earlier this week, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer announced an extensive new LAUSD pilot program to combat truancy by ensuring kids have “safe passage” to school.

Often, kids in high-violence neighborhoods don’t feel safe getting to school, so they just don’t go. The Neighborhood School Safety Program (NSSP), launching at four middle schools across the district, will create a “neighborhood school safety attorney” for each school. These attorneys will collaborate with parents and LAUSD administrators to keep kids safe by reducing gun violence and negative environmental factors. A number of parents from each school will also be trained to keep students safe on their walks to and from school.

The San Fernando Valley Post-Periodical’s Matt Thacker has more on the program. Here’s a clip:

A designated “neighborhood school safety attorney” will work with parents and Los Angeles Unified School District administrators to develop plans for improving safety for children who walk to school, reducing truancy, preventing gun violence and reducing environmental threats near schools.

One component of the program includes “safe passage to schools” – a partnership between the City Attorney’s Office, Casa Esperanza and school administrators. Feuer said they are recruiting and training 15 Vista parents to make sure children make it to and from school safely.

A number of other programs have been implemented, including the City Attorney’s Truancy Prevention Program which combats truancy through educational letters, parent and community meetings and enforcement hearings.

“Kids need to know they can be safe in school so they will go to school,” Feuer said. “School truancy issues are very important to all of us. We need our kids to stay in school.”

The neighborhood school safety attorney also organizes a “parent safety cadre” which educates parents how to address safety issues near schools. Following a recent meeting on tobacco enforcement, a parent contacted a local store which was selling e-cigarettes to minors, and the store’s owners agreed to stop the illegal practice immediately, according to Feuer.

A gun violence prevention coordinator will work with the Los Angeles Police Department to check that people who live near the schools and are not allowed to own or possess guns do not have firearms or ammunition. A multi-agency task force called “Los Angeles Strategy Against Violent Environments near Schools” began conducting compliance checks on parolees, probationers and registered sex offenders who reside near schools. On Aug. 12, nine felony arrests were made in an operation near Vista, while five children were removed from unsafe environments.


BILL WOULD ALLOW JUDGES TO GIVE SECOND CHANCES ON FIRST-TIME MISDEMEANOR OFFENSES

A new pilot program awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature, AB 2124, would give judges the ability to defer sentencing for certain first misdemeanors, allowing defendants to meet certain criteria to have the case against them dismissed. The defendant would have a year to complete restitution, participate in any required programs, and fulfill any other conditions. If the defendant meets all requirements, they will walk away free of a criminal conviction.

An LA Times editorial urges the governor to sign this smart piece of legislation. Here’s a clip:

Many people convicted of misdemeanors are sentenced directly to probation, especially in counties such as Los Angeles, where jails are crowded and cells are generally held for the most serious criminals. For the offenders, that means they don’t have to lose their jobs or school placements while they sit in jail. But they still end up with criminal records that could hinder their full reintegration into society as law-abiding members.

Some states have recognized that they can do even better by putting probation on the front end. The defendant pleads guilty and complies with various conditions, including monetary restitution, and the judge can opt not to enter the plea or the conviction. At the end of the year, presuming the offender has made amends, he or she is on a better track and winds up with no criminal conviction. If the conditions aren’t met, the conviction is entered and the offender is sentenced.

Hawaii has had a great deal of success with a version of the program. Virginia has its own twist, with some good results.

So how about California? Lawmakers here have slowly — very slowly — come to realize that we convict and lock up too many people for less serious crimes and in so doing put people on a path that limits their chances to move on with a crime-free life.


WHERE’S THE NATIONAL DATA ON OFFICER-INVOLVED SHOOTING NUMBERS?

The federal government does not have keep a comprehensive record of the number of fatal (and non-fatal) shootings by law enforcement officers. Instead, the Department of Justice lets police agencies “self-report” officer-involved shootings. Advocates say the uncollected data keeps law enforcement agencies from creating better policies and practices to lower the number of avoidable deaths.

The Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery has more on the issue. Here are some clips:

Police unions and some law-and-order conservatives insist that shootings by officers are rare and even more rarely unjustified. Civil rights groups and some on the left have just as quickly prescribed racial motives to the shootings, declaring that black and brown men are being “executed” by officers.

And, like all previous incarnations of the clash over police force, the debate remains absent access to a crucial, fundamental fact.

Criminal justice experts note that, while the federal government and national research groups keep scads of data and statistics— on topics ranging from how many people were victims of unprovoked shark attacks (53 in 2013) to the number of hogs and pigs living on farms in the U.S. (upwards of 64,000,000 according to 2010 numbers) — there is no reliable national data on how many people are shot by police officers each year.

The government does, however, keep a database of how many officers are killed in the line of duty. In 2012, the most recent year for which FBI data is available, it was 48 – 44 of them killed with firearms.

But how many people in the United States were shot, or killed, by law enforcement officers during that year? No one knows.

Officials with the Justice Department keep no comprehensive database or record of police shootings, instead allowing the nation’s more than 17,000 law enforcement agencies to self-report officer-involved shootings as part of the FBI’s annual data on “justifiable homicides” by law enforcement.

That number – which only includes self-reported information from about 750 law enforcement agencies – hovers around 400 “justifiable homicides” by police officers each year. The DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Statistics also tracks “arrest-related deaths.” But the department stopped releasing those numbers after 2009, because, like the FBI data, they were widely regarded as unreliable.

[SNIP]

Law enforcement watchdog groups and think tanks say that the lack of comprehensive data on police shootings hampers the ability of departments to develop best practices and cut down on unnecessary shootings.


DCFS HONORS PARENTS WHO TURNED THEIR LIVES AROUND TO GET THEIR KIDS BACK

The Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services has faced intense scrutiny since the horrific and preventable death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez. But the department does have triumphs, including many successful and safe family reunifications.

On Tuesday, DCFS held its fifth annual Family Reunification Heroes ceremony to celebrate reunited families and honor the parents who turned their lives around to win their children back.

LA Daily News’ David Montero has the story. Here’s how it opens:

On a clear night four years ago, Angel Ramirez got ready to sleep in a parking lot again. Homeless, strung out from years of heroin use, he thought this — after years of hitting bottom — was, in fact, rock-bottom.

He was alone. Broke and broken. His sister didn’t talk to him anymore, his children hardly knew him sober, and the weight of shame he carried on that patch of hard asphalt in East Los Angeles seemed to prove it was the lowest point in his life.

Ramirez said he just looked up into the dark sky and cried out.

The memory was fresh Tuesday when he recalled the gang ties, the jail time and the hopelessness. He stood up — sober since 2010 — and thanked Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services officials who helped him start to get his life back.

And his children back.

Ramirez, 49, of Los Angeles, joined three other parents honored at the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meeting as DCFS officials marked the fifth annual celebration called Family Reunification Heroes. Each parent, who had been chosen from a board member’s district, received a scroll and a picture with a board member.

Posted in City Attorney, DCFS, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), LAUSD, Sentencing, Youth at Risk | No Comments »

Interim Sheriff Wants OIG Bound to LASD in Attorney-Client Relationship…the Center for Youth Wellness…and the LASD’s Emerging Leaders Academy

July 11th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

SHERIFF SCOTT PUSHES FOR INSPECTOR GENERAL AND LASD TO HAVE ATTORNEY-CLIENT PRIVILEGE

Back in November, the LA County Board of Supervisors selected Max Huntsman to fill the newly established role of Inspector General for the Sheriff’s Department. County officials are still trying to establish what kind of access Huntsman will have to sensitive department data.

Interim Sheriff John Scott is urging the Supes to bind Huntsman to the LASD in an attorney-client relationship to protect confidential department information.

Aides to the Supes and other officials say the attorney-client privilege is not necessary, and would only impede the Inspector General’s ability to independently oversee the department. (We at WLA strongly agree, and would also rather the new sheriff make these recommendations, rather than the interim sheriff.)

The LA Times’ Abby Sewell has the story. Here’s a clip:

Interim Sheriff John Scott wants the inspector general to be bound by an attorney-client relationship with his department, so that confidential information shared with Huntsman as part of his investigations can’t be subpoenaed or released to the public.

“Absent an Attorney-Client relationship my desire to cooperate with the OIG will remain consistently high, but my actual ability to share information will be impaired and will need to be determined on a case-by-case basis,” Scott said in a statement Wednesday.

Past civilian monitors of the Sheriff’s Department have functioned under an attorney-client relationship. Sheriff’s officials said attorneys from outside the county had advised Scott to set up a similar relationship with the inspector general, although the county’s top attorney advised that such an arrangement wasn’t necessary.

At a public meeting Wednesday, aides to the supervisors opposed the sheriff’s proposal, saying it would impede Huntsman’s independence.

“The [inspector general] is being put into place to be a monitor, oversight, and distant from your organization,” Joseph Charney, a deputy to Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, told sheriff’s officials. “We’re concerned about that.”

Some county officials argued that attorney-client privilege would not apply, in any case, since the inspector general would not be giving legal advice to the sheriff. They said other state laws already protect the confidentiality of sensitive information.

The Supervisors are also in the midst of deciding whether to create a civilian oversight commission to watch over the department. On Thursday, Long Beach Police Chief and Sheriff candidate frontrunner Jim McDonnell released a statement in support of forming a citizen’s commission. McDonnell seems to be far more in favor of independent oversight than what we’ve seen from Sheriff Scott. Here is a clip:

“Later this month, the Board of Supervisors will consider whether to create a civilian commission to oversee the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. I support this concept and believe that there is great value in creating an independent civilian oversight body that would enable the voice of the community to be part of the LASD’s pathway forward. A civilian commission can provide an invaluable forum for transparency and accountability, while also restoring and rebuilding community trust in the constitutional operation of the LASD.

The Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence, on which I served, underscored the need for comprehensive and independent monitoring of the LASD and its jails and recommended the creation of an Office of Inspector General (the “OIG”) – an entity that is now in the process of formation. While our Commission opted not to express any view regarding a civilian commission, I believe that the time has come for the creation of an empowered and independent citizens’ commission to oversee and guide the work of the OIG and help move the Department beyond past problems.

Though a civilian oversight commission may be a new concept for LASD, it is not new to me or to law enforcement in general. Indeed, I spent many of my 29 years at the LAPD working with its citizens’ Police Commission. I have also worked with a citizens’ commission as Chief of Police in Long Beach. I have seen first-hand the value of empowering the community’s voice and welcome the opportunity to work with the Board of Supervisors, legal experts and community groups in developing the best possible model of civilian oversight for the LASD.

[SNIP]

While I encourage the Board of Supervisors, for all of these reasons, to move forward now with the approval of this concept, I believe that it is important to take the necessary time, and obtain expert guidance, to ensure that a newly created citizens’ commission has the structure, independence and resources to function effectively. In particular, I would urge serious consideration of a structure that would include not simply individuals appointed by the Board of Supervisors, but also other appointing authorities (that might include justice system partners and community stakeholders). To ensure their full independence and autonomy, serious consideration should be given to having commission members serve a set term of years and be empowered to select their own staff and leadership. The OIG, in carrying out the commission’s work, should have full access to LASD facilities, records and personnel, as allowed by existing law. These issues should be worked out in tandem with the development of the OIG, so that both entities can be part of a cohesive new civilian oversight structure. As noted above, it is my view that the commission should oversee and guide the work of the OIG, while also acting as a bridge to the community and a vehicle for the transparent airing of markers of progress in regard to moving LASD beyond past problems.


COMBATTING CHILDHOOD TRAUMA IN A DISADVANTAGED NEIGHBORHOOD

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Brian Rinker has an excellent story about San Francisco’s Bayview District Center for Youth Wellness, and Nadine Burke Harris, the pediatrician who pioneered its progressive, trauma-informed approach to healing kids in a violence-plagued neighborhood. Here are some clips:

San Francisco’s Bayview district is best known for its gun violence, drugs, pollution and poverty, and not much else. But a community health clinic’s radical approach to healing children may change all that by turning the impoverished neighborhood into an epicenter for trauma-informed care.

Pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris transformed her Bayview clinic to incorporate a growing body of research linking emotional and physical abuse, neglect and household dysfunction to a long list of poor health and societal outcomes later in life. The stress that arises from chronic exposure to trauma is so severe that it is called toxic stress, which can alter a child’s developing brain and body.

Since Burke Harris began treating patients struggling with toxic stress, she and her wellness center have become a fixture in the childhood trauma world: with glowing descriptions in news articles, and most recently a proposed California resolution to include the science of childhood trauma and toxic stress into the state’s policy vernacular.

“Nadine Burke Harris is a natural leader. She’s just wonderful,” said Esta Soler, president of Futures Without Violence, a organization advocating for trauma-informed policies on a national level. “Center for Youth Wellness is an incredible organization, a laboratory that will help many young people and families living with a lot of adversity.”

Soler said she hopes what Burke Harris is doing in the Bayview will inspire other leaders across the nation to apply child trauma research to their work with children.

[SNIP]

…the wellness center acts like an oasis for traumatized children. The roughly 1,000 children who visit the pediatrics office each year are screened using the Adverse Childhood Experiences scoring system, or ACEs. In 1998, researchers Robert Anda and Vincent Filletti released a blockbuster study linking child trauma to future health problems. The more the trauma the greater the likelihood a person will develop health and behavioral problems as an adult. They created the ACE score to measure instances of adverse experiences, like a child who is sexually abused by a parent, living with an alcoholic family member, a parent diagnosed with a mental health illness or having an incarcerated father are all traumatic instances calculated into a score. The higher the score the more likely that the patient would end up with health problems and even an early death. Patients with an ACE of score of 3 or 4 are sent to the Wellness Center for further help.

[SNIP]

Loftus said she expects to see 300 kids this year. Most kids treated at the center have a 3 or 4 ACEs score, but the range is from 0 to 8. The wellness center works with the child and family to design an individualized response to the toxic stress. The treatment usually involves education about adverse childhood experiences and how toxic stress can alter a child’s brain, therapy for coping with stress, better eating habits, exercise and biofeedback—where sensors are attached the body to identify stress points in an effort to teach the patient to avoid stressful situations.


LA COUNTY PROGRAM HELPS EX-OFFENDERS SUCCESSFULLY REENTER COMMUNITY THROUGH MENTORING AND TRAINING

Emerging Leaders Academy, a Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department reentry program, empowers former offenders to become self-reliant and successful through mentoring and education and employment services.

Only 11% of 700 participants have been locked up again after graduating the program (in stark contrast to the 75% recidivism rate in California).

The LA Daily News’ Dana Bartholomew has more on the program. Here’s how it opens:

Something strange happened to Carlos Duarte the day he attended an Emerging Leaders Academy eight weeks ago largely to get a glimpse of some pretty ladies.

A gang member slathered head to foot in tattoos, he’d spent the past 18 years in a California prison on an attempted-murder beef. He hated cops. And he’d just been busted for heroin.

What the 34-year-old ex-con stumbled into was an ember of hope in an empowerment program run by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. He donned a tie and a sleeveless argyle sweater, and he now beams at being called Mr. Duarte.

“I went in to talk to girls,” said Duarte, now living at Cri-Help, a drug treatment program in North Hollywood. “And instead I found self-worth, self-confidence — and my life became meaningful.”

The Boyle Heights resident was among 48 “emerging leaders” gathering at the Agape International Spiritual Center in Culver City on Wednesday for their graduation from the sheriff’s celebrated empowerment, learning and jobs program, part of the department’s Education-Based Incarceration Bureau.

They had participated in some very bad things, done drugs, gone to prison, become estranged from decent friends and family. Most of all, all agreed they’d become strangers to their true “right” selves.

In eight weeks’ time — and daily Emerging Leaders Academy classes from the San Fernando Valley to Long Beach, La Puente to Culver City — the onetime losers were now emboldened winners.

“Emerging leaders, we don’t give them anything,” said sheriff’s Sgt. Clyde Terry, founder of the leadership academy. “We remind them of who they’ve always been — they’re extraordinary human beings.”

Posted in children and adolescents, Inspector General, LASD, Reentry, Sheriff John Scott, Trauma, Youth at Risk | 38 Comments »

Sen. Rand Paul and Cory Booker Team Up on Criminal Justice Reform…Filmmaking for Disadvantaged Kids…ACLU Sues Over Lack of Representation for Immigrant Kids…and More

July 10th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

CRUCIAL BIPARTISAN JUVENILE AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM BILL

On Tuesday, the unlikely combination of Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and former mayor of NJ, Cory Booker (D-NJ), reached across the aisle to introduce an important, and far-reaching criminal justice reform bill. The REDEEM Act would give states incentives to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18-years-old, and ban the use of solitary confinement on kids except in extreme circumstances.

The bill would also expunge the records of kids under 15 who have committed non-violent crimes, and seal the records of kids between the ages of 15-17, as well as create a “path” for non-violent adult offenders to petition to have their records sealed.

REDEEM would also lift the bans on federal welfare for low-level drug offenders.

Here’s a clip from Sen. Rand Paul’s website:

The REDEEM Act will give Americans convicted of non-violent crimes a second chance at the American dream. The legislation will help prevent youthful mistakes from turning into a lifetime of crime and help adults who commit non-violent crimes become more self-reliant and less likely to commit future crimes.

“The biggest impediment to civil rights and employment in our country is a criminal record. Our current system is broken and has trapped tens of thousands of young men and women in a cycle of poverty and incarceration. Many of these young people could escape this trap if criminal justice were reformed, if records were expunged after time served, and if non-violent crimes did not become a permanent blot preventing employment,” Sen. Paul said.

“I will work with anyone, from any party, to make a difference for the people of New Jersey and this bipartisan legislation does just that,” Sen. Booker said. “The REDEEM Act will ensure that our tax dollars are being used in smarter, more productive ways. It will also establish much-needed sensible reforms that keep kids out of the adult correctional system, protect their privacy so a youthful mistake can remain a youthful mistake, and help make it less likely that low-level adult offenders re-offend.”


LA FILM PROGRAM FOR UNDERPRIVILEGED TEENS AND YOUNG ADULTS

A film program through Southern California Crossroads empowers underprivileged teens and young adults in LA by teaching them the art of filmmaking.

Crossroads, a non-profit with other education reentry services, partners with the Tribeca Film Institute in NY and St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood to give teens, who often feel unheard, a voice, and a medium for tackling difficult issues.

The LA Times’ Caitlin Owens has more on the program. Here’s how it opens:

As a child, Darlene Visoso tried to protect herself from the harsh words she endured from her father’s girlfriend by shutting off her emotions.

Until her early years of high school, she dealt with her pain, anger and insecurity by ignoring her feelings.

“I kind of went into a phase where I was like, what’s the point of feeling? What’s the point of laughing if you’re going to cry? What’s the point of crying if it’s non-ending emotion?” she said.

Though the girlfriend and her father have since split up, Darlene, now 17 and a recent graduate of South Gate High School, made a short film about her experiences titled “Learning to Feel.” She wrote it and played a part, starring as a girl who must learn to express her emotions after the death of her best friend.

The film was created through one of several programs run by Southern California Crossroads, a nonprofit group that aims to help underprivileged youths in violence-plagued communities. The film program, in partnership with the New York-based Tribeca Film Institute and St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood, allows students to confront social issues in their communities and their lives.

The topics addressed in the short films include such things as bullying, gun and gang violence, acceptance and self-identity. Saul Cervantes, a teacher with Crossroads, said filmmaking gives students a way to communicate.

“They feel like whatever they go through, they have to say it’s not really important,” he said. “This gives us an opportunity to show them a way to have a voice.”

Crossroads was formed in 2005 to help youths avoid violence, intervene in crisis situations and provide reentry services for those with criminal records. Although the heart of the program is education and employment, Crossroads offers mentoring, case management, tattoo removals and the film program.

It serves 18- to 24-year-olds who have dropped out of high school or have a criminal background…

Read on.


ACLU AND OTHERS SUE FEDS FOR NOT PROVIDING ATTORNEYS TO KIDS IN DEPORTATION HEARINGS

On Wednesday, the SoCal ACLU (and other groups) filed a class action law suit against the federal government on behalf of thousands of immigrant kids being shuffled through immigration court proceedings without any legal representation. The SoCal ACLU is joined by American Immigration Council, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Public Counsel and K&L Gates LLP in the suit.

Here are some clips from the ACLU of Southern California’s website:

Each year, the government initiates immigration court proceedings against thousands of children. Some of these youth grew up in the United States and have lived in the country for years, and many have fled violence and persecution in their home countries. The Obama administration even recently called an influx of children coming across the Southern border a “humanitarian situation.” And yet, thousands of children required to appear in immigration court each year do so without an attorney. This case seeks to remedy this unacceptable practice.

“If we believe in due process for children in our country, then we cannot abandon them when they face deportation in our immigration courts,” said Ahilan Arulanantham, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project and the ACLU Foundation of Southern California. “The government pays for a trained prosecutor to advocate for the deportation of every child. It is patently unfair to force children to defend themselves alone.”

[SNIP]

Kristen Jackson, senior staff attorney with Public Counsel, a not-for-profit law firm that works with immigrant children, added, “Each day, we are contacted by children in desperate need of lawyers to advocate for them in their deportation proceedings. Pro bono efforts have been valiant, but they will never fully meet the increasing and complex needs these children present. The time has come for our government to recognize our Constitution’s promise of fairness and its duty to give these children a real voice in court.”

The complaint charges the U.S. Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Department of Health and Human Services, Executive Office for Immigration Review and Office of Refugee Resettlement with violating the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause and the Immigration and Nationality Act’s provisions requiring a “full and fair hearing” before an immigration judge. It seeks to require the government to provide children with legal representation in their deportation hearings.


BUT WILL THE LAWSUIT CAUSE FURTHER DELAYS IN IMMIGRATION PROCEEDINGS THAT COULD ALSO BE HARMFUL TO SOME OF THESE KIDS?

EDITOR’S NOTE: The LA Times’ Hector Becerra has a story that questions whether the ACLU lawsuit will help or harm, pointing out that it will likely cause further delays in an already grossly overburdened system. Becerra’s story makes some interesting and valid points. Many kids who are here without documents are going to be repatriated no matter what, and the requirement for representation will likely only slow down an already glacial process.

But what of the kids who have legitimate reasons to ask for asylum or who have other extenuating circumstances that genuinely should be considered? Will their cases be adjudicated fairly by swamped judges if they don’t have the benefit an advocate? They are, after all, children. Will they get due process if they are their own sole representatives?

This is a complex matter, where there may be no perfect answer. But legal representation is an important tenet of our justice system. Let us not be too quick to dismiss the call for it for immigrant children simply because it may turn out to be inconvenient.


SENTENCING REFORM AND PUSHBACK FROM PROSECUTORS

NPR’s Morning Edition takes a look at the red states that are leading the pack on sentencing reform—Louisiana, in particular—and opposition from local prosecutors via plea bargain tactics. (As for California, we are sorely in need of sentencing reform.)

Here are some clips from the transcript, but do go listen to the episode:

Some red states like Louisiana and Texas have emerged as leaders in a new movement: to divert offenders from prisons and into drug treatment, work release and other incarceration alternatives.

By most counts, Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the country. In recent years, sentencing reformers in the capital, Baton Rouge, have loosened some mandatory minimum sentences and have made parole slightly easier for offenders to get.

But as reformers in Louisiana push for change, they’re also running into stiffening resistance — especially from local prosecutors.

It’s all happening as the number of Americans behind bars has started to decline. There are multiple reasons for that, including crime rates that have been dropping since the 1990s, as well as the impact of the Supreme Court’s 2011 requirement that tough-on-crime California reduce its prison population.

And there’s another factor: a growing bipartisan consensus for sentencing reform. Local politicians are getting political cover for those efforts from conservative groups like Right on Crime.

“It is a growing consensus on the right that this is the direction we want to be going,” says Kevin Kane, of the libertarian-leaning Pelican Institute for Public Policy in Louisiana. “Most people will point to, ‘Well, it’s saving money, and that’s all conservatives care about.’ But I think it goes beyond that.”

Kane says libertarians are interested in limiting the government’s power to lock people away, while the religious right likes the idea of giving people a shot at redemption — especially when it comes to nonviolent drug offenders.

Still, not everyone is embracing these ideas. In some places, there’s been considerable pushback — especially when the idea of eliminating prison time for drug offenders arises.

In Lafayette, La., the sheriff’s department has reinvented its approach to drug offenders. Marie Collins, a counselor by trade, runs the department’s treatment programs. She estimates at least 80 percent of the people in the parish jail got there because of substance abuse.

“The concept of, ‘Let’s lock them up and throw away the key,’ does nothing for society and does nothing for us, because you haven’t taught them anything,” she says.

So there’s counseling offered inside this jail. The sheriff’s staff is also constantly scanning the jail’s population for nonviolent inmates it can release early into the appropriate programs on the outside.

One option is the Acadiana Recovery Center right next door, a treatment program run by Collins and the sheriff’s department — though the staffers play down their connection to law enforcement. In fact, you can seek treatment there even if you’ve never been arrested.

“If we can be proactive and provide the treatment before they get to jail, it’ll actually cost us less money,” Collins says.

Arguments like that are making headway at the state level. But reformers in Baton Rouge are also experiencing pushback. By most counts, the state has the highest incarceration rate in the country, and there’s a traditional preference for long sentences.

[SNIP]

The vast majority of criminal cases in America are resolved through plea bargains. Defendants plead guilty out of fear of getting a worse sentence if they don’t. Plea bargains jumped above 90 percent in the 1980s and ’90s, in part because a wave of harsh new sentences for drug offenses strengthened prosecutors’ hands when bargaining with defendants.

“For a DA to have the ability to dangle over someone’s head 10, 20 years in jail, that provides them with tremendous leverage to pretty much get whatever they want,” says Louisiana State Sen. J.P. Morrell, a Democrat from New Orleans and former public defender.

Posted in ACLU, juvenile justice, Sentencing, solitary, The Feds, Uncategorized, Youth at Risk | No Comments »

2 Jurors Replaced at LASD Fed Trial…SCOTUS Clears Way for Conversion Therapy Ban….Booker & Smith Introduce Better Options for Kids Act

July 1st, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



REPLACEMENT OF 2 JURORS MEANS PATH TO VERDICT IN LASD TRIAL GETS LONGER

Jurors began deliberations last Tuesday on the obstruction of justice trial in which six members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department are accused of deliberately getting in the way of a federal grand jury investigation into widespread brutality and corruption in the LA County jail system.

By Friday afternoon, attorneys and trial watchers speculated optimistically that the jury might have the end of its deliberations at least in sight, and thus could possibly produce a verdict some time Monday.

Then Monday rolled around and all optimism vanished when two jurors were replaced alternates.

The first juror, a woman, was replaced Monday morning after she sent the judge a note resulting in a series of lengthy sidebars between Judge Percy Anderson and the two groups of attorneys involved, the prosecution and the defense.

Although Anderson sealed the content of the note, the reason that the juror needed or wanted to be replaced appeared to be something singular enough that it required animated discussion on the part of judge and lawyers prior Anderson making a final decision on the matter. Hence the sidebars.

Finally at 9:45 a.m., Anderson called the remaining eleven jurors back in and announced to them that an alternate was to replace one of their number. This meant, he explained, that they were now a brand new jury and must begin deliberating all over again as if their previous deliberations had never occurred.

The eleven who’d been at this for more than four days did not look thrilled at this “start your deliberations anew” set of instructions, but they filed out dutifully.

After about a half hour of deliberations the “new” jury sent a note to Anderson wanting to know if they could change their lunch location, which seemed to suggest that they had not yet gotten into any kind of deliberative stride.

Then at 12:30 or so, yet another note. This time from a second juror (also a woman) who, because of some kind of emergent personal situation, needed to be excused permanently right away. The juror appeared to be controlling distress and Judge Anderson excused her without much fuss after thanking her formally but warmly, for her time and service.

In came the rest of the jury members who were, again, told that one of their group was being replaced. This time the alternate juror was a man, disrupting the previous six-six split of males to females on the panel.

The jury was informed that it was now a new new jury, and thus must again “start your deliberations anew…” and so on.

If the panel members looked uncheery before, at this second set of instructions to totally reboot they looked visibly grim. Yet, they also still looked, for the most part, reasonably willing and determined.

With the exception of one last jury note that had something to do with a juror whose boss was getting irritated that he or she had been out so long, the rest of the afternoon was uneventful….

….and without a verdict.


U.S. SUPREME COURT SAYS NO TO HEARING APPEAL OF CALIFORNIA LAW BANNING GAY CONVERSION THERAPY

California’s first-of-its-kind law banning “reparative therapies,” which are designed to turn gay kids straight, was passed by the state legislature and signed into law by governor Jerry Brown in fall 2012, but it has yet to take effect because of court challenges by those opposed to the statute.

In August 2013, the 9th Circuit ruled that the practice, which is not supported by the scientific mainstream and has been shown to be damaging to youth, often producing depression and suicidality, was not protected by the First Amendment nor could it be challenged on religious grounds.

The law’s opponents then tried the Supreme Court, which on Monday refused to hear the challenge, thus opening the path for the important ban to finally take effect.

Lisa Leff of the Associated Press has the story Here’s a clip:

The U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way Monday for enforcement of a first-of-its-kind California law that bars psychological counseling aimed at turning gay minors straight.

The justices turned aside a legal challenge brought by supporters of so-called conversion or reparative therapy. Without comment, they let stand an August 2013 appeals court ruling that said the ban covered professional activities that are within the state’s authority to regulate and doesn’t violate the free speech rights of licensed counselors and patients seeking treatment.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that California lawmakers properly showed that therapies designed to change sexual orientation for those under the age of 18 were outside the scientific mainstream and have been disavowed by most major medical groups as unproven and potentially dangerous.

“The Supreme Court has cement shut any possible opening to allow further psychological child abuse in California,” state Sen. Ted Lieu, the law’s sponsor, said Monday. “The Court’s refusal to accept the appeal of extreme ideological therapists who practice the quackery of gay conversion therapy is a victory for child welfare, science and basic humane principles.”


SENATORS COREY BOOKER & CHRIS MURPHY INTRODUCE BILL TO INCENTIVIZE STATES TOWARD BETTER YOUTH JUSTICE POLICIES USING EXISTING FEDERAL $$$

Last week, U.S. Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) introduced something called the Better Options for Kids Act, a bill designed to “incentivize states to replace overly harsh school disciplinary actions and juvenile court punishment with bipartisan, evidence-based solutions that save money, enhance public safety, and improve youth outcomes.”

Interestingly, the bill uses existing funding streams to reward states that adopt policies that replace a purely punitive approach with those that improve youth outcomes. As examples, the bill lists:

Limiting court referrals for school-based non-criminal status offenses (truancy, curfew violations, et al)

Incentivizing school district to have clear guidelines regarding the arrest powers of school resource officers on school grounds

Providing training or funds training for school districts to use non-exclusionary discipline. (NOTE: “Exclusionary discipline” means suspensions, expulsions, and other disciplinary practices that keep students out of the classroom.)

Shifting funding formerly dedicated to secure detention for minors into community-based alternatives for incarceration

Adopting a reentry policy for youth leaving correctional facilities that ensures educational continuity and success.

“This bill represents a serious leap forward in the fight to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline, and to build a smarter, more effective, and more compassionate juvenile justice system” said Cory Booker in a statement announcing the bill’s introduction.

Murphy also stated strong sentiments. “When we lock up a child, not only are we wasting millions of taxpayer dollars, we’re setting him or her up for failure in the long run,” he said. “We need to quit being so irresponsible and facilitate better outcomes for youth.”

After he was elected U.S. Senator, former Newark New Jersey mayor Booker promised to make juvenile justice reform one of his top priorities. The Better Options for Kids Act looks like a promising step in that direction.

We’ll keep an eye on the bill’s progress.

Posted in Civil Liberties, FBI, jail, juvenile justice, LA County Jail, LASD, LGBT, School to Prison Pipeline, Youth at Risk, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 15 Comments »

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

June 16th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We at WitnessLA agree.

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

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

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

Sheriff Candidate Updates, Resolution to Minimize Kids’ Exposure to Trauma, CA Supreme Court Sez Names of Officers Involved in Shootings Are Public Record

May 30th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

GENE MADDAUS ON RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN BACA + HELLMOLD

When Lee Baca resigned as LA County Sheriff, he announced his support of either Assistant Sheriff James Hellmold or Assistant Sheriff Todd Rogers to take command of the department.

Since that announcement, however, Baca has shifted away from Rogers, who has made it clear in interviews and debates that he is not afraid to criticize the former sheriff and the condition he left the department in. Baca now supports outsider Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell, if Hellmold doesn’t win.

LA Weekly’s Gene Maddaus takes a refreshingly balanced look at the Baca-Hellmold connection and its implications. Here’s a clip:

Though he is generally cast as an “insider” in the race, Rogers has been vocal in criticizing a culture of cronyism in the department. Among other things, Rogers has accused Baca of giving out concealed weapons permits to his wealthy friends.

At a recent candidates’ forum, Rogers said that when Baca promoted him to assistant sheriff in 2013, “there was a giant bowl of Kool-Aid in the office and people were drinking from that. I took that Kool-Aid and dumped it out.”

Baca now considers Rogers to be a “back-stabber,” according to the source. In fact, Rogers is no longer even Baca’s second choice to be sheriff. If Hellmold does not win, Baca prefers James McDonnell, the Long Beach police chief.

This is not news to Rogers. In an interview, Rogers says it was “common knowledge” among those involved in the race that Baca is supporting Hellmold behind the scenes. Rogers says his own supporters have called him to say that Baca encouraged them to back Hellmold.

Rogers also says he remains “flabbergasted” that Baca ever publicly supported him, in light of how critical Rogers had been of Baca’s management of the department.

Although Hellmold has said he will continue many of Baca’s programs and policies, and still regularly speaks with the former sheriff, he maintains that he is not receiving any help from Baca or his former supporters. (We at WLA would like to know a little more about Hellmold-donor Ryan Kavanaugh, a former big-time supporter of Baca’s Sheriff’s Youth Foundation.)

In a separate interview, Hellmold says that he still talks to Baca regularly, but that Baca has done nothing – even behind the scenes – to back his campaign.

Told of Rogers’ statements, Hellmold says “It’s all in his head.”

Hellmold has raised $439,000, more than double what Rogers has raised.

“Everyone was shocked that within a month we raised $100,000,” Hellmold says. “Not one penny came from any of Baca’s previous supporters.”

AND IN RELATED NEWS…

The LA Times’ Cindy Chang has a new profile of Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell. Here’s a clip:

As the only serious contender without roots in the department, McDonnell has attracted high-profile endorsements and a substantial war chest from those who believe that change can best come from outside. A McDonnell victory would be historic: For a century, L.A. County voters have chosen a sheriff from inside the department.

McDonnell’s opponents in the Tuesday primary, who include two assistant sheriffs and a retired undersheriff, argue that only someone steeped in the department’s unique mix of jail management and street-level policing can turn the place around.

“He’s a very respected law enforcement professional…. To me it’s not about whether he has the knowledge or capability, but it’s the internal knowledge within the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department,” said Assistant Sheriff James Hellmold, a candidate with 25 years in the department.

McDonnell, 54, deflects those criticisms by promising to appoint top aides from within. He cites his service on the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence, which issued influential recommendations on how to fix the nation’s largest county jail system.

“I bring a fresh perspective from the outside. I’m not encumbered by internal alliances,” McDonnell said. “I didn’t grow up with people in the organization. I don’t owe anybody anything.”

[SNIP]

In Long Beach, McDonnell leads a force diminished by budget cuts to just over 800 sworn officers. He has been criticized for a rise in officer-involved shootings, as well as the 2013 beating of an unarmed man. Last month, Long Beach officers fatally shot a 36-year-old man who was allegedly armed only with a wooden stick as he fled down a set of stairs. The man’s family has filed a $10-million claim against the city.

…McDonnell said the department is always trying to improve.

“We’re looking for red flags: training issues, equipment issues, tactical issues,” McDonnell said. “Are there things we need to do with the individual officer, with the unit or department-wide training?”


NEW CALIFORNIA RESOLUTION TO ADDRESS KIDS’ EXPOSURE TO TRAUMA AND TOXIC STRESS

California Assemblymembers have introduced a promising new resolution urging the state to find evidence-based solutions to minimize kids’ exposure to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and toxic stress.

The resolution calls for preventative health care and mental health interventions to counteract trauma exposure and help kids have better outcomes and fewer encounters with the justice system. The resolution is co-authored by Assemblymembers Raul Bocanegra (D-Los Angeles), Rob Bonta, (D-Alameda), Bradford, Joan Buchanan (D-San Ramon), and Ian Calderon (D-City of Industry), and co-sponsored by the Center for Youth Wellness, Children Now and Californians for Safety and Justice.

Here are some clips from the announcement:

“Far too often, the impact of trauma in our children’s lives goes unnoticed and unaddressed,” said Asm. Bocanegra. “ACR 155 emphasizes our commitment to ensuring that all kids have a chance to thrive. It is more effective and less costly to positively influence the architecture of a child’s developing brain than to attempt to correct poor learning, health and behavior later on.”

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are traumatic experiences, such as abuse, neglect and household dysfunction, which can result in toxic stress and have a profound effect on a child’s developing brain and body. Research shows that exposure to childhood trauma is surprisingly common; a study of over 17,000 Californians found that two-thirds reported at least one adverse childhood experience, while 20 percent of participants reported three or more ACEs.

“Every parent, pediatrician and policymaker should be familiar with the words ‘toxic stress’ and ‘adverse childhood experiences,” said Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, founder and CEO of the Center for Youth Wellness. “The data around ACEs and their impact on children’s long-term health exposes the scope of the problem and the opportunity we have to heal. By identifying effective solutions and interventions to prevent ACEs and heal toxic stress, we can make kids healthier and build stronger families and communities.”

Exposure to adverse experiences is linked to increased risk for lifelong health and behavior problems. For example, research shows that an individual with four or more ACEs is more likely to have a stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cancer and diabetes. A person with four or more ACEs is also likely to experience depression, be more suicidal, or be an alcoholic.

“Trauma in its many forms can profoundly affect children’s healthy social, emotional and physical development, and their ability to learn and thrive,” said Ted Lempert, president of Children Now. “California must ensure that every child has access to evidence-based preventive and intervention programs to reduce the impacts of ACEs on individuals and inflated costs to our health care and public health systems.”

[SNIP]

“Addressing the impact of trauma on children is not just a response to violence but also a step toward preventing future trauma,” said Lenore Anderson, executive director of Californians for Safety and Justice. “The right interventions can help a vulnerable child avoid future exposures to violence that could otherwise have devastating effects on their ability to stay in school, stay healthy and stay out of trouble.”


CALIFORNIA HIGH COURT SAYS PUBLIC HAS A RIGHT TO KNOW NAMES OF OFFICERS INVOLVED IN SHOOTINGS

In 2010 the city of Long Beach released the names of police officers involved in shooting incidents to the LA Times. The Long Beach Police Officers Association sued the city, arguing that the information would endanger officers.

On Thursday, the California Supreme Court ruled 6-1 that law enforcement agencies have to disclose the names of officers involved in shootings (per the Public Records Act), unless the department could establish that such an action would threaten the officers’ lives.

The Long Beach Press-Telegram’s Greg Yee has the story. Here’s a clip:

In a 6-1 decision, the Supreme Court rejected the arguments of the Long Beach police union, concluding there is a presumption that the public has a right to know the identities of officers involved in shooting incidents. While the justices indicated there may be circumstances that would permit keeping the information secret, particularly if an officer’s safety might be jeopardized, departments do not have a sweeping right to withhold the officers’ identities in the aftermath of shootings.

“We reject that blanket rule,” Justice Joyce Kennard, who retired this spring with the case pending, wrote for the majority.

Long Beach Police Officers Association officials said in a statement it was “unfortunate that the majority of the Court does not recognize the safety concerns created for officers and their families involved in critical incidents when their names are released publicly.”

Union officials went on to say the organization “respectfully disagree(s) with the Court’s majority opinion that the public’s interest in this information outweighs the safety of the involved officers and their families. Police officers and other public safety personnel already face a wide range of risks. It is unfair and unconscionable that we should add the safety of their families and homes to that list as well.”

Justice Ming Chin was the lone dissent, siding with the Long Beach police union, which was joined by some other law enforcement groups in the case. Chin argued that the information is exempt from public records laws because it threatens police rights to privacy.

Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell, who is running for Los Angeles County sheriff, said in a statement Thursday that he is committed to “transparency, openness and public access in regard to the work of law enforcement. Indeed, it is my view that too often law enforcement treats the vast majority of what it does as a secret and dissuades public involvement, when in fact very little need be kept confidential and the engagement of our community should be embraced and welcomed.”

However he said the privacy needs of officers and their families needs to be balanced with this.

“I look forward to the direction from our City Attorney in regard to the implementation of this decision,” McDonnell said.

Posted in LASD, Trauma, Youth at Risk | 51 Comments »

Los Angeles DA Speaks Out Against Over-Incarceration, NYC Theater Troupe Hires Troubled Teens to Write & Perform…and Mother’s Day

May 12th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

DISTRICT ATTORNEY JACKIE LACEY SAYS LA NEEDS TO BE DOING MORE TO KEEP PEOPLE OUT OF JAIL

Last Tuesday, during the Board of Supervisors’ discussion about whether to move forward with a new $2 billion jail plan, LA District Attorney Jackie Lacey presented to the board a plan in progress that would divert a considerable portion of the county’s mentally ill inmates away from jail and into community treatment programs.

While the board voted in favor of the jail proposal, they also asked DA Lacey and her jail diversion task force to report back in 60 days with a more complete picture of their plan.

In a refreshing interview with the LA Times Steve Lopez, DA Lacey discusses LA’s over-incarceration of people who would experience better outcomes in community-based treatment, other counties with successful diversion programs, and some of the justice reforms she wants to help Los Angeles achieve. Here are some clips:

“It is clear, even to those of us in law enforcement, that we can do better in Los Angeles County,” she said, which is why she’s leading a task force that is studying less expensive and more effective alternatives than incarceration. “The current system is, simply put, unjust.”

Despite hearing this, the supervisors voted to proceed with a nearly $2-billion jail construction project designed to accommodate about 3,200 inmates with a mental illness — the same number currently locked up.

If you’re scratching your head, you aren’t alone.

The supes also voted to study diversion, which was nice, except that they got it backward. If they’d scoped out better options first, they might have discovered that it makes sense to build a smaller and less expensive jail and invest more in drug and alcohol and mental health treatment, cutting into both the jail and homeless populations. The county already has roughly 1,200 people in diversion programs, a number that could grow if not for funding and resource limitations.

Lacey didn’t want to talk about the politics of the matter when I visited her Thursday. But she was happy to explain how she came to believe in diversion as the more humane and effective option in some cases.

“It has been an evolution,” she said. “If you spend day in and day out in a courtroom, it becomes like Groundhog Day…. You’re seeing the same people with the same issues — drug addiction and mental illness,” many of them in for low-level, non-violent crimes. “You start to wonder: Are we really making a difference, especially when you consider that California has such a high recidivism rate?”

[SNIP]

On a tour of the overstuffed mental wards in county jail last year, Lacey was disturbed by conditions there — specifically the chaining of inmates to tables for therapy sessions. She and jail commander Terri McDonald began sharing ideas last December on a better system, and Lacey formed a task force that includes McDonald, court and law enforcement officials, the county mental health department and numerous other public and nonprofit agencies.

Lacey sent Assistant D.A. Bill Hodgman to Miami and San Antonio to study successful diversion programs, and she went to see another one for herself.

“I’m the district attorney of progressive Los Angeles, and I’m down in Memphis, Tenn., where police officers are spending 40 hours of training learning how to deal with mentally ill people so they don’t have a Kelly Thomas situation like they had in Orange County,” she said of the young mentally ill man who died after an altercation with police officers in Fullerton.

Lacey said she wants that same kind of training to be mandatory for all police officers. She wants more emergency units composed of police officers and mental health workers, and pre-arrest diversion to crisis and referral centers. She wants guidelines for prosecutors on which cases to divert. And she wants to explore funding options for more community-based treatment and housing.


STARGATE THEATRE PROGRAM IN NYC AN ALTERNATIVE-TO-INCARCERATION PROGRAM THAT PAYS KIDS TO WRITE AND ACT

Last week, we pointed to the California Dept. of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s announcement that the state would begin funding vital prison art programs once again.

Yet another example of why arts programming is so important for justice system-involved kids and adults, in NYC, the Stargate Theatre Company (a pilot program of the Manhattan Theatre Club) hires at-risk teenage boys, mostly low-level offenders, to write and act in their theatre troupe. The program is run by entertainment professionals, including four-time Emmy-winning writer Judy Tate, and the kids get to rehearse on the same stage as big-name actors in the Manhattan Theatre Club.

Nationswell’s David Wallis has more on the Stargate program, and the ways it empowers the kids involved. Here’s how it opens:

Last summer, on his first day on the job as an actor and writer for the Stargate Theatre Company in New York City, Christopher Thompson contemplated quitting. While many might consider getting paid to create performance art a step up from janitor’s assistant — his previous summer job — Thompson initially thought otherwise. Fear consumed the 17-year-old from Flatbush, one of Brooklyn’s less fashionable neighborhoods; he worried about being mocked for his grammar, handwriting and morbid humor. “I was afraid of people finding my form of expression really bad, really effed up,” says Thompson, who bears a resemblance to the Cat in the Hat with his lanky frame, long striped-knit cap and mischievous grin. He remembers feeling “extremely defensive” and thinking to himself, “This is awful. Why am I here? I’m not a talker, but I need the money.”

Thompson’s bumpy path to the stage began after a brief stint in New York’s notorious Rikers Island prison. Police arrested him last year for punching a classmate; it was his first offense. He contends that the kid he slugged during lunch harassed him about his black skin, but Thompson acknowledges that he has “anger problems.”

An alternative-to-incarceration program recommended Thompson to Stargate, a pilot project founded last year by the prestigious Manhattan Theatre Club (MTC), which produces Broadway and Off-Broadway plays. The unconventional Stargate theater troupe pays “court-involved” and at-risk teenage boys (most participants have committed low-level crimes) to stage a performance piece in a quest to reduce recidivism, teach literacy and provide work experience that looks far better on a CV than time in jail. The cast members — who applied to be part of the program — worked for a minimum of 12 hours a week for six weeks last summer to develop an autobiographical show, which they performed at New York City Center – Stage II, a sleek theater in Midtown Manhattan. After the premiere in August 2013, the teens returned to high school, though they reconvened for an encore performance of the show in October.

“We’re hiring these young men to be members of a theater company,” says David Shookhoff, education director of the Manhattan Theatre Club and an acclaimed director, most recently of the Off-Broadway hit “Breakfast With Mugabe.” “Their job is to write and to perform and to operate as an ensemble.” Shookhoff believes Stargate’s seven charter members learned to be timely, collegial and cooperative, valuable traits in the workplace.

Read on.


MOTHER’S DAY BEHIND BARS

With Mother’s Day just behind us and Father’s Day around the corner, Mother Jones’ Katie Rose Quandt reminds us that over three percent of kids in America have at least one parent behind bars.

Here’s the intro, but head over to the actual story (infographics abound):

My foster sister is in prison. Her four children see her briefly once a month, as part of a 368-mile round-trip that takes up their entire Saturday. (Before she was transferred last month, the trip measured 404 miles). She has missed so many milestones and special events in her children’s lives: first days of kindergarten, Christmases, birthdays, Halloweens, first school dances.

More than three percent of American children have a parent behind bars; so many that even Sesame Street thought to address the issue in a heartbreaking video and a recent initiative. With Mother’s Day upon us, I have to wonder: As kids grow up, what’s it like when the person they love most is locked away?

(For other WLA posts about kids with incarcerated parents, go here, and here.)

Posted in District Attorney, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, Reentry, Rehabilitation, Youth at Risk | No Comments »

What Does CA’s Use of Juvie Isolation Look Like?…..Stop Locking Up Truant Kids in CA! ….The Lousy State of Education in Juvie Lock-Ups, CA’ s included….North Carolina Sheriff Takes On Wrongful Convictions….Farewell to Gabriel Garcia Marquez

April 18th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


CENTER FOR INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING LOOKS HARD AT CA’S JUVIE SOLITARY

In addition to the shock and perplexity felt by many over California State Senator Leeland Yee’s arrest for what is alleged to be extravagant corruption and wrongdoing, the even larger disappointment is over the loss of his extremely valuable work in the arena of juvenile justice now that he’s been disgraced.

A case in point is, the legislation Yee (Dem-San Francisco) introduced earlier this year to ban solitary confinement as a form of punishment for juvenile inmates in California. Now, sadly, bill appears to have nearly zip chance of passing after Yee’s indictment last month on corruption charges.

Trey Bundy reporting for the Center for Investigative Reporting, takes a look at the way California juvie lock-ups are still using solitary confinement. Here is what he found in one of the state’s most progressive juvenile facilities in Santa Cruz, CA.

Although solitary confinement for extended periods is considered one of the most psychologically damaging forms of punishment – particularly for teenagers – no one knows how many juveniles are held alone in cells in California.

Neither the state nor the federal government requires juvenile halls to report their use of isolation for minors – and no laws prohibit them from locking down youth for 23 hours a day.

One thing is clear: Even the county considered one of the most progressive in the state sometimes resorts to solitary confinement to control adolescents.

The Center for Investigative Reporting was given a rare glimpse inside juvenile isolation cells at the Santa Cruz County Juvenile Hall. Considered a model youth detention facility by many juvenile justice experts, Santa Cruz still places youth in 23-hour isolation, sometimes for days on end.

But amid a growing national debate over juvenile solitary confinement, the way Santa Cruz manages its youth population could serve as a guide for lawmakers as they attempt reform in various states.

The cells at Santa Cruz look like what you would find in a prison: gray concrete floors, cinderblock walls, a bunk, a window, a heavy green door and a metal sink-toilet combo.

When isolation is used at the hall, teenagers usually are kept in their own cells for up to 23 hours a day. Guards check on them every 15 minutes, and they can receive visits from nurses, lawyers, pastors and administrators. Officials refer to the practice as room confinement. In extreme cases, inmates can be placed in one of three isolation cells with no windows that sit behind two sets of doors off the main hall. It’s clear by talking with youth here that even a few days alone in a cell can take a toll.

Sitting on a bunk in his 8-by-10-foot cell, one 15-year-old boy described throwing a fit when he thought he was unfairly locked inside for several days.

“I started, like, banging on my wall all day,” he said. “I got all kinds of toilet paper and I covered my light and was throwing up on my walls and making a big old mess.”

Santa Cruz probation officials allowed CIR to interview juvenile inmates on the condition that their names not be revealed.

The boy, who is now 16, has been detained at the hall nine times since April of last year on charges ranging from gun possession to auto theft. His stays lasted between two days and three weeks. This time, he was in room confinement for trying to pick a fight with an inmate from a rival neighborhood.

His mother has had drug problems and doesn’t always have a fixed address, so he couch-surfs a lot. He sometimes has to wear an ankle monitor as a condition of release. Occasionally, he said, life becomes so draining and chaotic and that he violates the monitor on purpose to get back here.

“I kind of feel safe here,” he said. “I come here back and forth, and in a couple weeks, I’ll be back in here.”

The boy was released a week after speaking with CIR and, as he predicted, was back 14 days later. “I’m probably my own worst problem when I’m in here,” he said.


JUDGE MICHAEL NASH SAYS STOP LOCKING UP TRUANTS IN CALIFORNIA

It doesn’t happen in every county, but the locking up of kids for so called status offenses like truancy has to stop says head Juvenile Court Justice Michael Nash, explaining that kids are just made worse by this kind of incarceration, and that most often truancy is a symptom of a family situation or an emotional issue that the kid is dealing with.

The Juvenile Justice Exchange has Nash’s Op Ed.

Here’s a clip:

With all the talk about ending the school-to-prison pipeline, many people may be surprised to learn that California still, in the year 2014, allows kids to be locked up for not going to school. On its face, state law prohibits this, but court decisions have created a loophole that allows incarceration when truants are deemed to be in contempt based on their truancy. Although a majority of California counties do not use this practice, a few persist in locking up truants. Senate Bill 1296 — the Decriminalization of Truancy Act, authored by state Sen. Mark Leno of San Francisco, would close the loophole. It deserves widespread support.

The loophole stems from the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974, which originally prohibited the incarceration of “status offenders” — including truants, runaways and incorrigible youth — because Congress didn’t want youth who had committed no crime to be treated like criminals. Unfortunately, the law was later amended to allow confinement if the young person continued to violate court orders. A few California courts have used that amendment to justify locking up truants.

Over the past decade, there has been increasing opposition to the needless incarceration of truants through loopholes in state law. Fourteen states have changed their laws already, and elimination of the federal exception has been a central part of efforts to reauthorize the law. Most recently, U.S. Rep. Tony Cardenas of Los Angeles has introduced the Prohibiting Detention of Youth Status Offenders Act aimed at eliminating the exception once and for all.


HOW BAD ARE THE EDUCATIONAL OUTCOMES IN AMERICA’S JUVENILE LOCK UPS? VERY, VERY BAD.

A new study by the Southern Education Foundation looks at how well or poorly various states are doing in getting kids who are locked up to the goal line of a high school diploma. The answer in most states—California prominently included—we are doing very, very badly.

Here’s a clip from the report’s introduction:

There is every reason to predict that today most of these students, like those who came before them in the juvenile justice systems, will never receive a high school diploma or a college degree, will be arrested and confined again as a juvenile or adult, and will rarely, if ever, become self-supporting, law-abiding citizens during most of their lives. Yet, substantial evidence shows that, if these children improve their education and start to become successful students in the juvenile justice systems, they will have a far greater chance of finding a turning point in their lives and becoming independent, contributing adults. The cost savings for states and state governments could be enormous.


NC SHERIFF BECOMES INNOCENCE CHAMPION—AND SAYS ITS GOOD FOR PUBLIC SAFETY

One day, after reading a nonfiction novel by popular author John Grisham, North Carolina Sheriff Chip Harding arrived at a blinding conclusion; one of the best ways to convict the right person for a serious crime, he concluded, is to avoid convicting an innocent.

Lisa Provence has the story for C-Ville.com Here’s a clip:

Albemarle County Sheriff Chip Harding has always approached his work as a cop through his background as a social worker and through his Baptist faith. But after a four-decade law enforcement career that includes nearly 30 years putting criminals behind bars as a Charlottesville Police Department investigator, he had a come-to-Jesus moment reading John Grisham’s The Innocent Man. The true story of a once major-league baseball player named Ron Williamson who spent 11 years on death row for a brutal Oklahoma rape and murder before being cleared by DNA evidence hit Harding like a punch to the stomach.

“It embarrassed me, that I’m part of law enforcement that did that,” he said.

Last month, Harding sent a rallying letter to the 123 sheriffs and 247 police chiefs in Virginia asking for their support in forming a justice commission to help prevent wrongful convictions like Williamson’s in the Commonwealth.

“I think we can change practices to lessen the likelihood of convicting the innocent while strengthening our chances of convicting the actual offender,” Harding wrote. “If police chiefs and sheriffs were to propose and or support reform—we would be taken seriously.”

That Harding would be the one leading the charge to overhaul the criminal justice system, one known for its resistance to change, shouldn’t come as a surprise. He’s long been on the cutting edge of investigative work as the guy who pushed for the General Assembly to fund Virginia’s DNA databank in the 1990s. And while he aggressively—and successfully—pursued hundreds of felony cases during his years as a detective, he also serves as the vice chair of the Good News Jail and Prison Ministry, which provides Bible classes and counseling services to inmates at the Albemarle Charlottesville Regional Jail.

Realizing he was part of a system that put innocent people behind bars—or worse, to death—was “humbling and shameful,” Harding said. “And it induced a rage. From there I started wondering how often that was going on.”

Here’s a hint at how often: Nationwide, 1,342 people have been exonerated, often after spending decades in jail, according to the National Registry of Exonerations, a joint effort of the University of Michigan and Northwestern University law schools. In Virginia, 36 people have been cleared of committing heinous crimes, 17 of those thanks to DNA evidence.

“That’s not even the tip of the iceberg,” said Harding, who went on to read UVA law professor Brandon Garrett’s Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong, an examination of the first 250 people exonerated by DNA.


FAREWELL TO GABRIEL GARCIA MARQUEZ, LATIN AMERICA’S MYTHO POETIC TRUTH TELLER, COLUMBIAN ALCHEMIST WITH WORDS, IRREPLACEABLE GENIUS

Nobel Prize winning author, Gabriel Garcia Marquez died Thursday at age 87. He had been ill for a long time.

It is impossible to overstate the importance of Garcia Marquez to literature in general, and to Latin American writing specifically.

And of course to his legions of entranced readers. (Your editor included.)

To glimpse the power of the man referred to in the Spanish speaking world as Gabo, one has only to read the opening sentence to Garcia Marquez’ masterpiece One Hundred Years of Solitude, long considered one of the best first line’s in literature:

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.

(What book lover with any sense would not wish to read on after that?)

Each of his ten novels produces its own kind of revelation. But for me, after One Hundred Years of Solitude, the book of his I most treasure is Love in the Time of Cholera Gabo’s novel about lovers whose story takes fifty years, nine months, and four days to finally entirely bloom.

It has its own great opening line as well:

It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.

NPR’s Mandalit del Barco has more in a wonderful appreciation of Gabriel Garcia Marquez here.

Gabo, rest in peace. We will miss your light, of course. But we are grateful beyond words that you left so much of it behind for us.

Posted in art and culture, Education, Innocence, juvenile justice, law enforcement, Life in general, literature, solitary, Trauma, writers and writing, Youth at Risk | No Comments »

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