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Zero Tolerance and School Discipline


Landmark Lawsuit Filed Against Compton School District for Failing to Help Severely Traumatized Kids Struggling With Learning

May 19th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

On Monday, a one-of-a-kind, and potentially important lawsuit was filed by the public interest law firm, Public Counsel, and by Irell & Manella LLP, in behalf of five student plaintiffs plus three teachers, alleging that the teenagers named, and others with similar experiences who attended schools in the Compton district, “have been denied meaningful access to public education” as a result of the district’s “practices and policies that fail to accommodate the effects of complex trauma.”

“These policies and practices,” the lawsuit alleges, are against federal law and “perpetuate and sometimes create trauma on their own.”

The idea that childhood trauma really, no kidding, affects a kid’s ability to learn, or to sit still in a classroom, to focus on a test, or to respond constructively to criticism by a teacher, or react with moderation to a challenge or bullying by another student, are still only at the barest edge of mainstream acceptance, never mind that, for some years, we’ve had the scientific ability to observe the physical changes that occur in a kid’s brain in response to severe or sustained childhood trauma. Most of our public systems don’t behave as if we know what we know.

The purpose of this lawsuit is to change all that by forcing the hand of at least one school district—namely Compton—and, in so doing, setting a legal precedent that could trigger more change across the county, the state and beyond.


“NUMBER ONE HEALTH PROBLEM”

At a mid morning video conference, four of the plaintiff kids told their stories, (see video above) after which attorneys Mark Rosenbaum, Laura Faer and Katheryn Eidmann, all from Public Counsel explained in more detail what they believed to be the importance of their legal filing

“The number one public health problem in the United States today is the affect of childhood trauma on students’ opportunity to learn.” said Rosenbaum, “The widely known, but little addessed scientific fact of life is that childhood trauma can negatively affect the capacity of any child to learn and to succeed in school.”

Nowhere, Rosenbaum said, is the school-derailing impact greater than in high violence neighborhoods and communities, “where children suffer frequent and severe traumatic episodes that are so stressful that they overwhelm a young persons ability to cope. Unadressed trauma is the enemy of the brain,” he said. All the experts have told us that the surest way to reduct the achievement gap in American between our have and have not communities, is to address childhood trauma in our public schools.”

But that, Rosenbaum and the other attorneys say, is what Compton, and many school districts around the state and the nation—have failed to do.

Rather than “taking reasonable steps to address the needs of students affected by trauma,” the suit claims that CUSD punished and/or excluded the kids who were suffering most in ways that made succeeding in school all but impossible, and all this happened at a time when the kids needed help the most.

One student-plaintiff, Peter P., had a history of being repeatedly abused and watching his junky mother and his siblings badly abused as well. Eventually he and his sibs were removed to the foster care system, where Peter P bounced in and out of homes, and witnessed a frightening amount of street violence. (You can read the details here.)

Peter P became homeless for two months in March and April 2015, when he was 17. During this period, he slept on the roof of the Dominguez High School cafeteria. When his roof sleeping was fully discovered, instead of being offered help or services, he was suspended.

“If we cannot address the causes of extreme childhood trauma,” said Rosenberg, “we can at least address its effects so that all children can learn and achieve their dreams. But schools like those in Compton, he said “too often treat their students as bad children, not students to whom bad things have happened.”


SEEKING REMEDIES

So what, specifically, does the lawsuit hope for in the way of changes?

The attorneys point out that there are “proven models” already adopted by some districts across the country, that have helped both students and teachers “become more resilient in the face of adversity and trauma.”

The models include:

• Adequate mental health and counseling service for the highest need students;
• Trauma-informed training and support for all educators and school staff;
• Teaching children skills to cope with their anxiety and emotions; and
• Implementing positive school discipline and restorative strategies that keep children in school and create a safe and welcoming environment.

“Schools that fail to address the impact of trauma on students are engaging in unlawful discrimination,” said Laura Faer, Public Counsel’s Statewide Education Rights Director. “Trauma is a top predictor of school suspensions, expulsions and school-based referrals to law enforcement. Schools that fail to meet their obligation to become trauma-informed frequently deny student’s meaningful access to education and impermissibly put them on a school to jailhouse track.”

We will keep you posted on the outcome.


Posted in ACEs, Restorative Justice, School to Prison Pipeline, Trauma, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

Oakland School Board May Vote Wed. to End “Willful Defiance”…. LA County Supes Toss ICE Agents Out of Jail (Mostly)…More Reasons to Like Body Cameras

May 13th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



On Wednesday afternoon, May 13, the Oakland Unified School District board
is planning to vote on whether or not to eliminate all “willful defiance” suspensions and involuntary transfers by July 1, 2016.

Representatives of a coalition of organizations that are pushing for the vote—including Public Counsel, the Black Organizing Project, the ACLU of Northern California, and others—have commended the district for making “great strides” by instituting changes in its discipline policy that have decreased school suspensions by 50% in the last 2 years.

But in a statement issued Tuesday, the group pointed out that African-American students continue to be removed from school at “extremely disproportionate rates,” particularly for “disruption and willful defiance.” (Although African American students made up 28% of the students enrolled in OUSD, in 2013-14, they accounted for more than half of the students suspended for “disruption and willful defiance.”)

Willful defiance, as you may remember, is the nearly infinitely expandable category that means kids can be tossed out of school for such minor misbehaviors as talking back, failing to have school materials, forgetting to turn off a cell phone, and dress code violations.

Los Angeles Unified School District, which is the largest district in the state, and the second largest in the nation, banned willful defiance as a cause for suspension in May of 2013.

Then in September 2014, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law AB 420, a bill that eliminated all expulsions for the catch-all category, and banned its use for suspensions in grades K-3.

The law made California the first state in the nation to put such limits on the use of willful defiance.

In a November 2013 policy statement, the American Academy of Pediatrics said that “out-of-school suspension and expulsion are counterproductive to the intended goals, rarely if ever are necessary, and should not be considered as appropriate discipline in any but the most extreme and dangerous circumstances…”

We’ll let you know how the vote turns out.


UPDATE: Oakland did indeed vote unanimously to eliminate willful defiance as a reason to suspend any student and to invest at least $2.3 million to expand restorative justice practices in its schools. Good job, Oakland!


MEANWHILE, BACK IN LA COUNTY, SUPES VOTE TO END PROGRAM THAT TURNS LASD DEPUTIES INTO ICE AGENTS

At Tuesday’s board meeting, in a 3-2 vote, the LA county Supervisors voted to dump a long-controversial immigration-related program, which former sheriff Lee Baca had been notoriously loath to relinquish, many thought, because of the extra funding it brought in from the feds.

KPCC’s Leslie Berestein Rojas has more on the story. Here’s a clip:

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday afternoon to discontinue the immigration enforcement program known as 287(g), which since 2005 has allowed trained deputies to act as immigration agents in county jails.

Supervisors Hilda Solis, Mark Ridley-Thomas and Shiela Kuehl voted in favor of the motion to scrap the program, a voluntary partnership with the Department of Homeland Security.

Under 287(g), sheriff’s deputies trained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement were tasked with questioning jail inmates about their immigration status, and notifying federal agents.

The board meeting was packed with activists for and against discontinuing 287(g), with dozens of people stepping up to comment before the vote took place. Those against the program said it exacerbated deportations and separated families; those in favor of keeping the program argued that it promoted public safety.

The vote was taken after nearly three hours of impassioned public comment, most of it by community members with personal stories to tell about how 287(g) had affected their lives.

But while the supes closed one door to ICE, they opened another with an agreement to cooperate with a new federal program known as the Priority Enforcement Program, or PEP, which replaces the unpopular Secure Communities, and which allows ICE to be invited inside the jails in certain instances, theoretically when inmates who have convicted more serious crimes are deemed deportable.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl voted against the PEP agreement.


CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY HAS MORE ON WHY HE BELIEVES POLICE BODY CAMS WILL BE GREAT FOR COPS AND COMMUNITIES

Oakland police have seen use of force incidents cut in half since their employment of police body cams, and the number of complaints against police have tumbled as well, writes civil rights attorney James S. Muller in an Op Ed for the LA Times, about what he has concluded regarding the need for body cameras based on his years of suing police in court.

Here’s a clip from the opening:

Across the table from me, about to be deposed in a case of alleged LAPD excessive force, sat a young police officer. For once, I thought, I was facing a cop who might help my case. She clearly wasn’t accustomed to this. I could read in her face a combination of anger and disgust. Maybe, I thought, just maybe, she would tell the truth.

It was an especially egregious case. An elderly woman had been thrown down the steps by an officer pursuing a suspect. The woman suffered a devastating compound fracture of her leg; she wouldn’t walk again. It was avoidable, bad policing, and I hoped the officer who had witnessed it might not feel bound by the cop code of silence.

As it turns out, I was wrong. That deposition would be one more in the long history of the refusal of police to be honest about excessive force, a history that those of us who do civil rights work know all about but that the general public has only begun to understand as videos of bad policing come to light.

The practice of police videotaping is both part of the solution for excessive force and evidence of how routinely officers have lied about it with impunity. Results from police departments using body cameras demonstrate these effects.

Read on.

Posted in Education, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LAPD, LASD, School to Prison Pipeline, Willful defiance, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 2 Comments »

VISALIA: What Happened to Suspension Rates When a California School District Decided That ALL Its Kids Mattered?

April 3rd, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


VISALIA CHANGES COURSE

California’s Visalia Unified School District used to suspend their students at an appalling clip. For instance, for the 2009-2010 school year—a time when other districts were getting pressure to improve their stats—Visalia still suspended a flabbergasting 40.5 percent of its secondary school students. But then its superintendent and a few of his administrators got together and made some profound changes in how they disciplined kids.

So what did they do and how did they do it?

We’ll get to that in a minute. First a very brief overview of school discipline in America.


THE BEST & the WORST

We initially became aware of Visalia’s record a month ago when a national report was released that looked at which of the nation’s school districts had the worst records for overuse of suspensions and expulsions, and which districts were doing things right.

The report—“Are We Closing the School Discipline Gap?”—was created by UCLA’s Center for Civil Rights Remedies, and the numbers it documented were alarming. It turned out that, despite a several years of public conversation about the damage that an overuse of suspensions can do to kids’ ability to succeed in the classroom and beyond, nearly 3.5 million public school children were suspended at least once during the 2011-2012 school year—with many suspended multiple times. Since most suspensions were an average of 3.5 days, that meant that in one school year, 18 million hours of learning were lost for American kids.

Beyond the overview of suspension patterns, the report also looked at individual states and individual school districts within those states, to find out which districts were still doing a bad job at finding disciplinary solutions other than tossing kids out of class —especially black and disabled kids—and which districts had actually managed to take great leaps in improving their discipline stats.

The report also found that, in some districts, the overall numbers weren’t all that awful, but the racial disparities were, said Daniel J. Losen, the director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies, and the report’s lead author.

“The fact that 14 percent of districts suspended more than one of every 10 black elementary students, and 21 percent of the districts suspended one of every four black secondary students, or more, is shocking when compared to the Latino and white distribution,” Losen said. “The Normandy school district in Missouri, where Michael Brown attended is among the highest suspending districts in the entire nation with an overall suspension rate for black students of just under 50 percent.” This type of large disparity, he said, “impacts both the academic achievement and life outcomes of millions of historically disadvantaged children, inflicting upon them a legacy of despair rather than opportunity.”

But the report’s news wasn’t all bad, Losen pointed out when I spoke to him recently.

For example, in California, he said, there was one particular district that made it on the list of the report’s most improved districts in the nation when it came to secondary schools. The district was Visalia, and it went from suspending a gasp-worthy 40.5 percent of its secondary students in 2009-2010, to 15.5 percent in 2011-2012.

Now Visalia’s rate is down to around 11 percent (still lower when Visalia includes its charter high schools).

Losen suggested I check out Visalia.


POSITIVE DISCIPLINE AND CHANGING A CULTURE

“We still overuse suspension in our system,” said Dr. Craig Wheaton, Visalia’s superintendent, when I called him to ask him about his precipitous drop in out-of-school discipline numbers “I think we had very high rates that we brought down to a more reasonable level. But they need to be lower,” he said.

Okay, fair enough, but how did they make the drastic change they’ve already accomplished?

Changing a system is not something you do overnight, Wheaton said. “It’s a cultural change we’re talking about. You can’t just quit suspending kids. We had to first begin with the cultural change around how we approach discipline as a whole and, over time, that began to affect our suspension/expulsion rate.

“We began asking ourselves,” Wheaton said, “how do you work with discipline in such a way that it becomes a positive learning experience, rather than punitive?”

One of the specific things Wheaton did to reboot the district’s approach to discipline was to ask all of his teachers to read a best-selling parenting book called “Positive Discipline,” by Jane Nelson.

“We had Jane Nelson work with us, and she developed a positive discipline work training for us that really helped.”

What really affected their data, he said, “was just looking at ourselves and asking how we could create discipline as a learning environment that kept the behavior from occurring again.”

Yet, upstream of everything was a change in attitude by the adults toward the kids they were teaching, and that occurred slowly.

“We started looking at two rails. One rail was student achievement. But we were having to emphasize school achievement so much because of No Child Left Behind. So we started saying that the other rail was really about relationships with kids. All kids need to feel like they belong. They need a sense of significance and belonging. You can’t just demand that students achieve at high levels. You need to win their hearts first. You need to establish a relationship.”


FINDING THE POINT WHEN DETACHMENT BEGINS

Wheaton said that he and his colleagues also began looking at where kids started to detach from school that ultimately led them to acting out.

To find out, they pulled together all the district’s expulsion cases for the prior year-–which amounted to around 100 folders. “Then we reviewed them in teams. We looked all the way back to when the kids were in grade school, and noted when they began acting out, and what was going on with each of them then. In the majority, 9th grade was the big moment. In general, kids started disengaging in 3, 4th and 5th grades. By 7th grade it got more serious. And by 9th grade, they’re getting suspended.”

So Wheaton and company started thinking, “How do we ID and support kids— especially in elementary and middle school—and help them to feel like they belong, and are engaged?” Going off the rails, he said, “It doesn’t just happen over night.”

Another part of keeping kids engaged, Wheaton said, was to have programs other than academics that the students found important and gave their school time extra meaning. “We tried to hold on to all those things, in spite of budget cuts.” He fought to keep strong athletic activities, and other things, like music and performing arts. “We have a very strong music program that starts in 4th or 5th grade, and musical theater at all high schools and some middle schools.” Most recently they’ve done Guys & Dolls and Grease. “And Mary Poppins, a fabulous production with a professional company coming in and putting up the wires so she could fly through the rafters.”


DOES EVERY STUDENT REALLY MATTER?

Not everyone bought in to the new discipline practices, Wheaton said.

“I just don’t want to paint a rosy picture that everything’s alright, because it’s a struggle. Some people are against what we’re doing. They feel that we’re turning too soft, that we’ve gone overboard, and that certain kids should be kicked out.” But a lot of those people are older, he admitted, and are retiring out of the system.

“But even now, our teachers’ association still reminded teachers that they have the right to suspend.” Wheaton sighed.

“The truth is, we identified the need [for a new discipline system] long ago. We really wanted our schools to be safe learning environment, but the answer was always suspension.”

The new direction really began, Wheaton said, “when we talked about doing the best we could for ‘all students.’ And we started questioning who was ‘all?’ Who does that include? Did we mean all? Or did we really mean most.

And if all truly meant all, they were going to have to make some changes.

So they did. “And we’ve still got farther to go.”


AND…BEFORE YOU GO OFF FOR THE WEEKEND: THE ACLU IS STRONGLY ADVOCATING FOR SUBPOENA POWER FOR THE SOON-TO-BE-CREATED SHERIFF CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT COMMISSION. Here’s the ACLU’s forceful and fact-driven letter, for your reading pleasure. It was sent on Friday to those who have decision-making capabilities in the matter. It should also be noted that the LA Times editorial board is of the same opinion.

Posted in Education, School to Prison Pipeline, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

The Trauma Files: You Too Can Take the ACEs Test…Now That We’re Finally Having a Serious Conversation About the Effects of Childhood Trauma

March 6th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



Several times a year, I am asked to speak about juvenile justice issues at classrooms
full of graduate students studying public policy, or some similar subject. These days when I talk about criminal justice–juvenile or otherwise—I always bring up the issue of trauma.

I trot out the results of research showing that kids in the juvenile justice system are 8 times more likely to suffer from post traumatic stress disorder—PTSD—than non-incarcerated kids in the community.

I note that the prevalence of PTSD is higher among girls in the justice system (49%) than among boys in the system (32%).

I explain that for school age kids, PTSD can look a lot like attention-deficit disorder, with the accompanying lack of concentration, resulting poor grades, plus the kind of inability to sit still that often leads to school discipline.

Then I tell the students that there is a newer way to look at the kind of extreme stress and trauma that can cause PTSD in kids—along with related difficulties in school performance, behavior and so on.

It is called Adverse Childhood Experiences—OR ACEs.

(We’ve written about ACEs in the past here and here and here.)


THE ORIGINAL ACEs STUDY

In the late 1990s, Vincent Felitti, founder of the Department of Preventive Medicine for Kaiser Permanente in San Diego, and Robert Anda of the US Centers for Disease Control, conducted a landmark study that examined the effects of what they termed adverse childhood experiences–ACEs—things like abuse, neglect, domestic violence and other forms of family dysfunction and catastrophe.

Felitti and Anda studied around 17,000 people in all, the majority of whom were white, well-educated, and middle class or above. Each subject was asked to answer a series of questions about highly stressful events or conditions in their childhood, along with another basic set of questions about physical and emotional issues in their adulthood.

When the researchers analyzed the resulting data, they found find a powerful connection between the level of adversity faced and the incidence of many health and social problems. The two also discovered that ACEs were more common than they had expected. About 40 percent of Felitti and Anda’s respondents reported two or more ACEs, and 25 percent reported three or more.

Since then, similar studies and surveys have been conducted in several states, with findings that are either consistent, or more dramatic.

It is at around this point in my lecture that I ask the class members if they’d like to take an ACEs test themselves.

It isn’t the full test that Felitti and Anda gave, only a 10-question quiz, but it will still give them a good idea of what we’re talking about.


YOU TOO CAN TAKE THE ACES QUIZ

If you click the link below you can take it yourselves.

ACES 10 Q QUIZ

Of course there are other significant forms of childhood trauma that are not listed in the quiz: having a friend killed, repeated exposure to community violence, surviving and recovering from a severe accident, being the subject of severe bullying or violence by a friend or acquaintance….and so on.

Moreover, the test doesn’t measure traumatic events occurring in young adulthood, or adulthood, which can compound the effects of earlier trauma, or cause it’s own after effects.

Yet it’s a good place to start.


SCORING TRAUMA

After everyone has finished and privately noted their personal scores, we talk further about how trauma is the unacknowledged elephant in the room when it comes to the subjects of school discipline, justice policy, prisoner reentry, etc., and also, as it turns out, when it comes to physical health.

I tell stories about the young men and women I got to know during my first few years of gang reporting in the early 1990′s, and how their ACEs scores were off the charts. And now, 20 years later, many of them are struggling with the physical and emotional issues that the first ACEs study described.

When we talk about criminal justice policy reform, juvenile justice reform, school discipline reform, prisoner reentry, we also have to have the conversation about trauma, I say.

When the class is over, there is inevitably a cluster of students who want to talk more. Once we’ve chatted a little, I ask those who have lingered behind if they’d be willing to reveal their own ACE scores; what they tell me no longer surprises: ….5….6…7….

And in the last class at which I lectured, one obviously bright woman took a breath and said… “10.”

(Her story is an interesting one and I hope to persuade her to write about it for WLA)


BRINGING ACES INTO THE LIGHT

I bring all this up because this week NPR’s Laura Starecheski produced an excellent three part series for All Things Considered about the world of ACEs, which will further explain why this topic is something we should all know more about.

Part 1 is titled Can Family Secrets Make You Sick and it talks about the Felitti/Anda study, and how it was received—when it first came out, and now.

Here a clip.

In the 1980s, Dr. Vincent Felitti, now director of the California Institute of Preventive Medicine in San Diego, discovered something potentially revolutionary about the ripple effects of child sexual abuse. He discovered it while trying to solve a very different health problem: helping severely obese people lose weight.

Felitti, a specialist in preventive medicine, was trying out a new liquid diet treatment among patients at a Kaiser Permanente clinic. And it worked really well. The severely obese patients who stuck to it lost as much as 300 pounds in a year.

“Oh yeah, this was really quite extraordinary,” recalls Felitti.

But then, some of the patients who’d lost the most weight quit the treatment and gained back all the weight — faster than they’d lost it. Felitti couldn’t figure out why. So he started asking questions.

First, one person told him she’d been sexually abused as a kid. Then another.

“You know, I remember thinking, ‘Well, my God, this is the second incest case I’ve seen in [then] 23 years of practice,’ ” Felitti says. “And so I started routinely inquiring about childhood sexual abuse, and I was really floored.”

More than half of the 300 or so patients said yes, they too had been abused.

Felitti wondered if he’d discovered one of the keys to some cases of obesity and all the health problems that go along with it.


THE FIFTEEN YEAR GAP

In Part 2, NPR and Starecheski offered their own interactive ACEs test and what the scores mean.

Part 3 is titled 10 Questions Some Doctors are Afraid to Ask

I met Felitti last fall and he said that when he and Anda first published their results in the late 1990s, they expected an overwhelming response from the medical community.

Instead for the next fifteen years they got….crickets.

Here’s what the CDC’s Anda told Starecheski:

“I thought that people would flock to this information,” Anda says, “and be knocking on our doors, saying, ‘Tell us more. We want to use it.’ And the initial reaction was really — silence.”

In fact, it took a long time to even get the study published. A number of top medical journals rejected the article, Anda says, “because there was intense skepticism.”

Here are some clips from the rest of the story:

For one thing, doctors aren’t taught about ACE scores in medical school. Some physicians wonder what the point would be, as the past can’t be undone. There also is no way to bill for the test, and no standard protocol for what a doctor should do with the results.

But Felitti thinks there’s an even bigger reason why the screening tool largely has been ignored by American medicine: “personal discomfort on the part of physicians.”

Some doctors think the ACE questions are too invasive, Felitti says. They worry that asking such questions will lead to tears and relived trauma … emotions and experiences that are hard to deal with in a typically time-crunched office visit.

[SNIP]

According to Dr. Jeff Brenner, a family doctor and MacArthur Fellows award-winner in Camden, N.J., getting these rough measures of adversity from patients potentially could help the whole health care system understand patients better.

The ACE score, Brenner says, is “still really the best predictor we’ve found for health spending, health utilization; for smoking, alcoholism, substance abuse. It’s a pretty remarkable set of activities that health care talks about all the time.”

Brenner won his MacArthur fellowship in 2013 for his work on how to treat the most complicated, expensive patients in his city — people who often have high ACE scores, he found.

“I can’t imagine, 10, 15 years from now, a health care system that doesn’t routinely use the ACE scores,” he says. “I just can’t imagine that.”

Brenner only learned about ACE scores a few years ago, and says he regrets not integrating the tool into his practice sooner. But like most doctors, he says, he was taught in medical school to not “pull the lid off something you don’t have the training, time or ability to handle.”

In theory, Brenner says, talking to patients about adverse childhood experiences shouldn’t be any different than asking them about domestic violence or their drinking — awkward topics that doctors routinely broach now.


KANSAS CITY TRIES “TRAUMA INFORMED” CARE FOR KIDS

The good news is that there are some promising programs popping up all around the nation, including a number in California, which make use of what we know about the effects of childhood trauma.

For instance, we’ve talked several times about Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, and her remarkable pediatric practice in San Francisco. And there is this pediatric program in Kansas City, profiled by Eric Adler for the Kansas City Star. Here’s a clip:

Never mind the little girl’s name. What’s important is that she was about 10 years old and all the doctors she had seen month after month had failed to ease her pain.

The girl’s stomach wrenched. Her chest tightened. Her skull seared with lightning-bolt headaches.

Then at Children’s Mercy Hospital, pediatrician Lisa Spector decided to probe with a different set of questions. Instead of asking what was wrong physically, Spector asked the girl what had happened to her in her young life. Quickly, the crux of her pain became clear:

Trauma.

“It was impacting her physical and mental health,” Spector said.

At school, she was bullied. At home, she witnessed repeated domestic violence. She talked of her dad belittling and abusing her emotionally. She recently had been a victim of an attempted carjacking; the thief fled after seeing her in the back seat.

Day to day, she was living a tense and unsure existence that was translating itself into hobbling pain.

That the child’s troubles ultimately eased not with medication but with counseling can be credited to a serious effort by Children’s Mercy to focus on “trauma-informed” care.

For a growing number of children across the country, the approach has become the key to their emotional and mental health, “the most important thing we can do for people,” said Marsha Morgan, chief operating officer for behavioral health at Truman Medical Center.

Trauma-informed care focuses on the notion that a traumatic event in childhood, either experienced or witnessed, can alter the biology of the brain. A trauma-informed strategy works on multiple fronts — using counseling and changes to one’s personal interactions and environment — to lessen or bypass those negative associations while forming new and more positive associative pathways in the brain.

“I’ve worked in this field for over 42 years, and this is the most important thing I’ve ever done,” Dr. Morgan told Adler as they talked about the hospital’s trauma work.

We’ll be talking more about trauma, its effects,. and what can be done to prevent and address them, as we profile more of important programs over the coming weeks and months

Posted in ACEs, Community Health, juvenile justice, mental health, prison policy, PTSD, Public Health, School to Prison Pipeline, Trauma, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

Santa Clara’s Unique Efforts to Keep Kids Out of Adult Court…LASD Civilian Oversight Subpoena Power….School Discipline….and NY’s New Anti-Prison Rape Videos

February 23rd, 2015 by Taylor Walker

SANTA CLARA PROSECUTORS LOOK TO ADVOCATES TO ANALYZE HOW KIDS ARE TRIED

In 2013, the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office invited a team of advocates and public defenders to evaluate how and why county prosecutors charged teenagers as adults.

Prosecutors sat down with the team and discussed each case in which a kid was sent to adult court. The advocates, all against charging kids as adults for any reason, showed prosecutors where they felt different outcomes could have been achieved.

The goal of the DA’s office is to simultaneously keep kids out of the adult system while still maintaining public safety. This particular effort to increase oversight of how teens are prosecuted is unlike anything else we have seen in the state (and is certainly worth emulating).

The San Jose Mercury’s Mark Gomez has more on Santa Clara’s important program and its significance. Here are some clips:

“It’s very easy to close the books and not account for what you did and why,” said Frankie Guzman, an attorney with the National Center for Youth Law who was one of the advocates invited to review the cases. “I respect the fact this interaction and conversation happened, because it’s not happening anywhere else.”

In the majority of cases in Santa Clara County, prosecutors choose to keep the youth in the juvenile system, where the focus is on rehabilitation.

But in about 18 percent of such cases in Santa Clara County since 2010, prosecutors charged juveniles as adults, often resulting in prison sentences. The decision to bring in youth advocates was made following an internal review in 2013, which revealed that a higher percentage of Latino kids face adult charges than other ethnicities. So the District Attorney’s Office pulled together a team of people from the county public defender’s office and Bay Area youth advocacy groups to scour every single case filed that year. Prosecutors explained each decision, and the team discussed what they might have done differently.

“If we can keep a kid in the juvenile system and still protect public safety, we’re going to make that decision,” said Chris Arriola, supervising deputy district attorney of the juvenile unit. “But sometimes we have to make that decision to take them out. We do not take it lightly.

[SNIP]

In many California counties, the decision to charge a youth as an adult is made by one prosecutor, according to Bay Area youth advocates. District attorneys are not obligated to detail their reasoning for charging a juvenile as an adult — known as “direct file” cases.

In Santa Clara County, a team of four senior prosecutors considers several factors, including the youth’s criminal history, the sophistication and gravity of the offense, the outcome in previous attempts to rehabilitate the youth, and the ability now to rehabilitate the minor in the juvenile justice system. All four prosecutors must agree the youth should be criminally prosecuted as an adult.

Read the rest.


SHOULD THE LASD CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT PANEL HAVE AUTHORITY TO SUBPOENA DEPARTMENT DOCS?

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze takes a look at the hotly-debated issue of whether to equip civilian oversight commission with the power to subpoena documents as part of its oversight of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

Members of the group planning the new civilian panel have differing opinions, and Sheriff Jim McDonnell is still not too keen on the idea, according to Undersheriff Neal Tyler.

The planning group is slated to present their recommendations to the LA County Board of Supervisors in May.

Here are some clips from Stoltze’s story:

“Its certainly a club should you ever need it,” said Dean Hansell, who chairs the working group which is designing the new oversight panel.

Subpoena power would give the panel the ability to force reluctant Sheriff’s officials to testify before it and to obtain certain documents. It would not give the panel access to personnel records – that would require a change in state law.

[SNIP]

Sheriff Jim McDonnell remains reluctant to support subpoena power, according to interim Undersheriff Neal Tyler. He said change already is underway at the department, which is under federal investigation for civil rights abuses and corruption. There’s no need for “the hammer” of subpoena power after the election of McDonnell, said Tyler, who also sits on the working group.

“We have a hammer right now and its Sheriff Jim McDonnell,” the undersheriff said. He also noted McDonnell is providing Inspector General Max Huntsman broad access to the department.

“We are working so cooperatively with him now that it’s not necessary to codify it,” Tyler said. Huntsman has said he needs still more access to adequately oversee the department, and that subpoena power would help.


WHERE WE ARE WITH SCHOOL DISCIPLINE IN CA

News 10′s Michael Bott and Ty Chandler have good overview of the state of school discipline in California, both the racially disparate use of “willful defiance” suspensions, and the restorative justice alternatives that are starting to reverse some of the damages done to kids of color across the state.

Bott and Chandler’s story includes some interesting videos and an interactive map of willful defiance suspensions at schools in the Bay Area (only one SoCal school is featured). Here’s how it opens:

Teenager Dwayne Powe Jr. got a suspension in eighth grade. He didn’t get into a fight. He wasn’t caught with drugs. He committed no crime.

“I actually was asking for a pencil,” Powe said.

Powe said his class began an exercise and he asked to borrow a pencil from another student. That’s when his teacher told Powe he was being disruptive and made him leave class. Powe tried explaining he had only asked for a pencil, but that only dug his hole deeper, he said.

He was technically suspended for “willful defiance”.

Nearly 200,000 California students who were suspended for willful defiance last year can relate to Powe’s story.

What constitutes willful defiance is somewhat vague, but it generally allows teachers to remove students from the classroom if their behavior is thought to be disruptive or defiant. It’s the most common reason California students were suspended—and students of color are overwhelmingly targeted.

But there is a growing consensus that keeping kids out of the classroom for non-violent behavioral issues has done more harm than good, and students of color are paying the heaviest cost for this policy.


EDSOURCE LAUNCHES NETWORK TO CONTINUE COMBATTING EFFECTS OF HARSH SCHOOL DISCIPLINE

In the 2013-2014 school year in California, expulsions plunged 20%, and suspensions fell 15%.

In an effort to keep those numbers dropping, and to divert kids from the “school-to-prison-pipeline,” Ed Source has assembled the Educators Network for Effective School Discipline, backed by the California Endowment.

The group intends to connect school officials, educators, and others to share and discuss programs and practices (like restorative justice and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) that are successfully keeping kids in class, creating better relationships between kids and teachers, and promoting school safety.

Current chairman of the Educators Network for Effective School Discipline, Carl Cohn (who is also a former school superintendent and former State Board of Education member), has more on the new network and why this issue is so important. Here’s a clip:

Leaders of California public schools are seriously re-examining discipline practices and questioning the value of practices that are ineffective and counterproductive – measures that may put youngsters at greater risk for dropping out and for involvement with the juvenile justice system.

These leaders are listening carefully and responding appropriately to the long-standing accusation in the civil rights and advocacy community that some of our schools are, in fact, “pipelines to prison.” Nothing better represents this point of view than the thousands of students suspended each year for willful defiance, which could include behaviors such as eye rolling, talking loudly or standing in a menacing way….

As a first step toward ending this practice, Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed AB 420, which bans suspending students in the K-3 grades for willful defiance.

In order to sustain this momentum, EdSource has convened the Educators Network for Effective School Discipline, with support from The California Endowment. The idea is to bring together principals, teachers, superintendents and others to look at ways to keep youngsters in school and to share best practices and model programs that are especially effective at accomplishing that goal while also making sure that schools are safer as a result of the effort. It’s not just about bringing the numbers of suspensions and expulsions down; it’s also about creating a school climate that contributes to positive relationships among students and staff.

In our discussions with educators, both Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (evidence-based interventions that work) and “restorative justice” (where students are called on to repair the harm caused by bad behavior) have emerged as just two effective routes toward creating a school climate that helps keep kids in school and maintaining a safer school environment overall. Like most ambitious school reforms, issuing directives from district headquarters will probably not yield the best results. These are changes that must be owned by principals, teachers, assistant principals and school counselors – those closest to meting out school discipline.


NEW YORK’S SURPRISING NEW EFFORT TO COMBAT PRISON RAPE

Funded through the Prison Rape Elimination Act, New York state prisons will start showing two new inmate orientation safety videos to educate men and women about how to avoid rape behind bars. The twenty-minute-long videos are directed by T.J. Parsell, who was raped on his first day in prison.

The Marshall Project’s Eli Hager has more on the safety videos. Here’s a clip:

Prisons will show inmates — both male and female — an orientation video offering advice on how to identify, and avoid, sexual predators behind bars….

They will be premiered for the inmates who participated in the filming — at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women, Fishkill Correctional Facility, and Downstate Correctional Facility — then rolled out in prisons across the state.

New York has had an uneven record on prison rape. In 2010, according to PREA surveys, three of the eleven prisons in the U.S. with the most staff-on-inmate sexual violence were in New York…

The orientation videos are an attempt to confront that legacy and to change a prison culture in which sexual assault, and the code of silence surrounding it, remain all too common.

Posted in District Attorney, Jim McDonnell, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, Public Defender, racial justice, Rape, Restorative Justice, School to Prison Pipeline, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

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

February 9th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

BLACK GIRLS EXPERIENCE AS MUCH (OR MORE) RACIAL INEQUALITY AS BLACK BOYS, BUT DO NOT RECEIVE AS MUCH HELP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…and recommendations:

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

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

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

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

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

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


WHAT HAPPENS TO WOMEN AND CHILDREN REFUGEES WHO ENTER THE UNITED STATES

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

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

Here’s how Hylton’s story opens:

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

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

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

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

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

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


SAN BERNARDINO COP ON WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE A BLACK OFFICER IN THE US

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[SNIP]

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

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

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

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


SUICIDES IN LOS ANGELES JAILS DECREASED BY HALF IN 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 14th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(cough) Judge Michael Nash (cough, cough)


SAN FRANCISCO TURNS TO COMMUNITY COURT TO BREAK THE INCARCERATION CYCLE

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

But do such strategies work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But as to why CJC having a better effect?

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

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

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

Sounds fine to us.


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

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

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

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

Here’s a clip:

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

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

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

[SNIP]

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

So, listen. Okay? Okay.


THE PAIN OF LOSING AL MARTINEZ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Independent Investigations into Police-Killings, Restorative Justice in LA, Broken City Poets, and Streetcraft LA

January 12th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

STATES WEIGH ESTABLISHING OUTSIDE INVESTIGATION OF POLICE-INVOLVED DEATHS

Several states, including California, are considering legislative measures that would require outside investigation of killings by police officers, which are ordinarily investigated by the local District Attorney’s office. In the wake of non-indictments for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, there is rising concern that the connections between county district attorneys and law enforcement agencies may create a conflict of interest.

If passed, the California bill, authored by Assemblymember Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento), would transfer the investigation to a state Department of Justice panel that would then issue a recommendation to the local DA’s office as well as the California Attorney General. (Read more about the bill, which is still in its early stages, on Assemblymember McCarty’s website.)

New Jersey, Missouri, Colorado, and New York are all also looking into taking these particular investigation responsibilities out of the hands of district attorneys, following in the footsteps of Wisconsin where an independent panel must review officer-involved deaths.

But reactions to such legislation are mixed.

The Wall Street Journal’s Zusha Elinson has more on this interesting and complex issue. Here are some clips:

Maki Haberfeld, professor and chairwoman of the Department of Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice Administration at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said that such changes don’t get at the real issues involved in American policing and use of force.

“Political decisions are based on how little I can pay to satisfy people: ‘Let me create a new entity and I will call it the special prosecutor or whatever,’ ” she said. “That’s a reactive approach, not proactive: There is a need to invest in recruitment, selection and training and then we will have less need for investigations.”

[SNIP]

William Johnson, executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations, said there is no need to pass laws such as the one in Wisconsin. “I think it would be better to have a common-sense approach and utilize outside agencies on an as-needed basis,” he said.

But Jim Bueermann, a former Redlands, Calif., police chief who heads a research organization called the Police Foundation, believes more states will follow Wisconsin.

“I just don’t see that it would be overly problematic for most police departments,” he said. “Best practices would indicate that you wouldn’t investigate yourself in criminal investigations.”

But Mr. Bueermann said that a balance must be struck, arguing that too much scrutiny of split-second decisions can have consequences on the streets. “When police feel they are being judged inappropriately or too harshly, there is a phenomenon called ‘de-policing’ and they stop being proactive and become entirely reactive,” he said.


RESTORATIVE JUSTICE TRANSFORMING LOS ANGELES SCHOOLS

As the restorative justice school discipline model spreads to school districts across the nation, suspension numbers are rapidly shrinking. Last year, in Los Angeles, suspensions were down 89% from five years ago, thanks, in part, to swapping out harsh zero-tolerance policies, and engaging students, their peers, and teachers in conflict resolution activities. And in 2013, the Los Angeles Unified School District mandated that all schools adopt the restorative justice system by 2020.

The AP’s Christine Armario tells the story of Augustus Hawkins High School in South LA, which was built in 2012, and has experienced a dramatic discipline turnaround in just a few short years. Here’s a clip:

In the last three years, Marcquees Banks has been taken out of class twice and sent to another school for getting into fights.

The third time he got into a scuffle, something different happened: A counselor at Augustus Hawkins High School in South Los Angeles pulled Banks and the other teen aside and told them they needed to talk.

Seated face to face, Joseph Luciani asked them to explain why they’d fought and how they felt — part of the school’s new approach to discipline that is catching on in urban districts and focuses more on students working out their differences with counselors than suspensions.

“I realized we had a lot of similarities,” said Banks, 17, who said his father is involved in a gang and his mother jobless.


YOUNG “BROKEN CITY POETS” USE POETRY AND JOURNALISM TO MAKE SENSE OF LIFE IN BANKRUPT STOCKTON, CA

The Center for Investigative Reporting and Youth Speaks (a non-profit that helps kids in SF and around the world find their voices through spoken-word poetry) together commissioned Bay Area slam poet and activist, Josh Merchant, to teach workshops mixing poetry and investigative journalism to Stockton kids.

The goal was to help kids find and use their voices to cope with issues in their struggling city. We encourage you to watch the resulting documentary, Broken City Poets (above), in its entirety.


DIVERTING LA TEENS FROM TAGGING INTO A SAFE SPACE FOR ART AND ENTREPRENEURIAL DEVELOPMENT

The Santa Monica non-profit, Streetcraft LA, redirects gifted young taggers from the streets, teaching them how to channel their talents to earn an income—selling their designs on clothing, wall art, and other merchandise. Streetcraft LA has provided a positive and profitable outlet to around 75 Los Angeles kids, who are either at risk or have spent time behind bars for tagging.

KPCC’s Adrian Florido has the story. Here are some clips:

Bobby Rodriguez started tagging when he was 13, spray painting illegal graffiti art from San Pedro to San Bernardino. Life in that world led to other illicit activity and several arrests…

Today, at 25, Rodriguez is an aspiring commercial artist, thanks in part to the efforts of a Santa Monica-based nonprofit called Streetcraft L.A.

Streetcraft co-founder Jonathan Mooney calls it a social venture, designed to show talented but troubled kids like Rodriguez that their art can be a source of legitimate income.

“There’s this misconception that graffiti is gang related,” Mooney said, adding that most is not. “It’s often creative young people who don’t have a different channel for their creativity.”

[SNIP]

In the two years since Streetcraft was founded, about 75 young artists have taken its classes, though the organization doesn’t track how many kids give up illegal tagging after going through its program.

Streetcraft co-founder Mooney said the nonprofit is also working to become something of a diversion program for kids arrested for graffiti.

“We have begun the process of building a relationship with folks in the juvenile justice system to see Streetcraft as a way to perhaps give a kid a second chance to apply that creativity in a different way,” he said.

Posted in journalism, juvenile justice, LAUSD, law enforcement, Prosecutors, Restorative Justice, writers and writing, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

Two Cities on Opposite Ends of the School Discipline Spectrum, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, and Drugging Foster Kids

December 12th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

OAKLAND LEADING THE WAY ON RESTORATIVE JUSTICE

In 2007, an Oakland’s first restorative justice program was piloted at a middle school. That school improved student-teacher relations and reduced suspensions by 87%. Seven years later, nearly 30 schools in Oakland follow the restorative justice model, which fosters healing and conflict resolution between students and their teachers and peers. A forthcoming report shows that from 2011-2014, the Oakland Unified School District saw suspension rates drop by 40%, while academics and graduation rates improved.

Oakland is also dedicated to implementing restorative practices in the juvenile justice system. And families, communities, and police are working together to keep kids out of lock up.

In a guest commentary for the San Jose Mercury, Fania Davis, co-founder of Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth, shares some of Oakland’s powerful restorative justice triumphs, as it sets an example for the rest of California, as well as the nation. Here’s a clip:

Inspired by the successes of New Zealand’s Maori-influenced Family Group Conferencing, Oakland’s Community Works West has launched a restorative diversion pilot that is dramatically reducing recidivism.

The Oakland-based National Council on Crime and Delinquency is helping other jurisdictions initiate similar pilots.

Insight Prison Project is launching an in-custody restorative program. RJOY is pioneering a restorative re-entry model. The North Oakland Restorative Justice Council paints murals, plants trees, and facilitates healing circles after youth homicides.

Residents and police are working together to keep children out of prison. Police, probation officers, youth and others are being trained in restorative justice.

Youth and police are sitting together in healing circles, creating new relationships based on increased trust and recognition of one another’s humanity. Given the epidemic of police killings the nation is now grappling with, our work with law enforcement offers hope.


BUT OVER IN GEORGIA…

In stark contrast to the situation in Oakland, over in Atlanta, 12-year-old Mikia Hutchings faced serious criminal charges for writing on the walls of a bathroom at school after her family was unable to pay $100 in restitution. Through a deal with the state to have the charges dropped, Mikia was placed on probation and had to do 16 hours of community service. Mikia’s white friend who wrote on the walls with her, saw no legal consequences. Her parents were able to pay the restitution, and the girl received a few days suspension. And Mikia’s not the only one.

The NY Times’ Tazina Vega has Mikia’s story, and more on Georgia’s serious racial disparity in school discipline. Here are some clips:

To hear Mikia Hutchings speak, one must lean in close, as her voice barely rises above a whisper. In report cards, her teachers describe her as “very focused,” someone who follows the rules and stays on task. So it was a surprise for her grandmother when Mikia, 12, and a friend got into trouble for writing graffiti on the walls of a gym bathroom at Dutchtown Middle School in Henry County last year.

Even more of a surprise was the penalty after her family disputed the role she was accused of playing in the vandalism and said it could not pay about $100 in restitution. While both students were suspended from school for a few days, Mikia had to face a school disciplinary hearing and, a few weeks later, a visit by a uniformed officer from the local Sheriff’s Department, who served her grandmother with papers accusing Mikia of a trespassing misdemeanor and, potentially, a felony.

As part of an agreement with the state to have the charges dismissed in juvenile court, Mikia admitted to the allegations of criminal trespassing. Mikia, who is African-American, spent her summer on probation, under a 7 p.m. curfew, and had to complete 16 hours of community service in addition to writing an apology letter to a student whose sneakers were defaced in the incident.

Her friend, who is white, was let go after her parents paid restitution.

[SNIP]

Michael J. Tafelski, a lawyer from the Georgia Legal Services Program who represented Mikia in the school disciplinary hearing, and advocates for students say the punishment Mikia faced was an example of racial disparities in school discipline.

In response to the actions taken against Mikia, Mr. Tafelski said his office had filed a complaint with the Justice Department claiming racial discrimination and a violation of the Civil Rights Act. “I’ve never had a white kid call me for representation in Henry County,” Mr. Tafelski said.

“What kid needs to be having a conversation with a lawyer about the right to remain silent?” he said. “White kids don’t have those conversations; black kids do.”

According to Mikia, her only offense was writing the word “Hi” on a bathroom stall door, while her friend scribbled the rest of the graffiti. “I only wrote one word, and I had to do all that,” Mikia said in a recent interview. “It isn’t fair.”


BRINGING BACK THE JUVENILE JUSTICE AND DELINQUENCY PREVENTION ACT

A bipartisan Senate bill to reauthorize and update the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), which was first enacted in 1974 (and hasn’t been successfully reauthorized since 2002), was introduced Thursday.

The JJDPA gives states funding (into the millions) for compliance with these four requirements: do not detain kids for status offenses, work to reduce disparate minority contact with the justice system, keep kids out of adult facilities (with a few exceptions), and when kids do have to be kept in adult prisons, keep them “sight and sound” separated from adults.

The bill proposes important changes to the JJDPA. Over the course of three years, an exception to the rules allowing courts to detain kids for status offenses via a “valid court order” would be eliminated. The new bill also would require states to record and report data on issues like the solitary confinement of kids, the detainment of kids for status offenses, and how many offenses occurred at school.

Because the bill reauthorization was introduced by Senate Judiciary Committee members Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) toward the end of the Senate’s session, it will have to be reintroduced next year.

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

In exchange for compliance with those requirements, states receive no less than $400,000 in federal funds, and more populous states typically receive millions. Forty-nine states at least try to comply with the act; Wyoming is the lone holdout.

The bill introduced today would phase out over three years the “valid court order,” an exception that permits courts to jail children for status offenses, which include truancy and running away.

While judges are not permitted under JJPDA to detain a youth directly for a status offense, a judge can issue a court order to any offender instructing them not to commit a status offense.

If the juvenile then commits one of the listed offenses, it would be permissible under the federal law to detain them. In 2012 alone, the exception was used more than 7,000 times, according to the Coalition for Juvenile Justice.

The bill would also require states to report data on several controversial issues regarding youth in detention or confinement. Among the reporting requirements:

- Use of restraints and isolation in juvenile facilities

- The number of status offenses who are detained, the underlying reason for the detention, and the average length of stay

- The number of pregnant juveniles held in custody

- The number of juveniles whose offenses occurred on school grounds


THINK TANK: WHAT TO DO ABOUT PHARMACEUTICALS’ TARGETING OF DOCTORS TREATING FOSTER KIDS

Last month, part three of Karen de Sá’s powerful series on drugging foster kids exposed pharmaceutical companies’ flagrant targeting of doctors who treat kids in foster care. (If you haven’t, go back and read that story, and parts one and two, here.)

California Healthline put together a think tank that includes advocates, officials, and physicians to answer how California should deal with this issue.

Here’s what Kimberly Kirchmeyer, executive director of the state medical board, had to say (but do go read the other contributions):

The Medical Board of California takes the issue of inappropriate prescribing very seriously. The board is committed to consumer protection, and enforces this commitment through the education and oversight of its physicians. The board is currently working with the California Department of Health Care Services and the California Department of Social Services to identify physicians who may be inappropriately prescribing medications to foster children.

It is very important, for this issue and other cross-cutting issues, that state agencies collaborate and work together to share information that will allow each agency to take the necessary actions against their licensees. In addition, working together on a “united front” to tackle such an issue can provide more comprehensive solutions in order to continue to protect California consumers.

The board encourages any individual, agency, media or court official to notify the board and file a complaint if they believe a physician may be inappropriately prescribing. The board needs to be notified in order to investigate and take appropriate action against a physician’s license who is found to be inappropriately prescribing medications. It is critical for the board to be involved in this issue, as the board is the only state agency that can take the appropriate action against a physician’s license and his/her ability to practice.

The board is thoroughly committed to addressing the inappropriate prescribing issue by taking the appropriate action when necessary and providing and disseminating education to physicians, consumers and other state agencies.

Posted in Foster Care, juvenile justice, Restorative Justice, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

School Districts Misreporting Restraining Kids, Prop 47 Funding, Obama’s Law Enforcement $$$, and Jim McDonnell

December 3rd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LA, NY, AND CHICAGO TELL THE DEPT. OF EDUCATION KIDS AREN’T RESTRAINED IN THEIR SCHOOLS…BUT IT DOES HAPPEN

It is required that every school district in the US reports how many times kids were restrained in school to the Department of Education. The requirement came about after a 2009 government report revealed that these restraints—mostly of kids with disabilities—resulted in tons of unnecessary injuries (and even deaths).

ProPublica’s Annie Waldman analyzed the data, and found that two-thirds of school districts said there were no instances of kids being restrained or held in isolation rooms. Big districts like Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago fell into this category.

LA Unified School District said there were no restraints, but does tally “behavior emergency interventions,” which can involve pinning down a child.

Here’s a clip from Waldman’s story:

The Department of Education declined to say whether they have penalized any districts for failing to report.

But underreporting appears to be rampant. Our analysis found that more than two-thirds of all school systems reported zero instances of restraining a student or isolating them in so-called “seclusion” rooms.

Many districts are not taking the reporting process seriously, said Claudia Center, a senior attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union.

“I think there needs to be a real cultural shift on restraints,” Center said. “It has been a really common practice in schools for decades. If [schools] had to write down how many times they actually do it, they would have to change what they’re doing.”

A spokesman for the federal Department of Education said if school districts fail to collect data on restraints, the government works with them to construct a plan to improve and could ultimately compel them to report by suspending federal aid until they do.

Huffman, the spokeswoman from Chicago’s public school system, said federal officials haven’t contacted school officials there about their missing data.

Los Angeles Unified School District spokeswoman Gayle Pollard-Terry, said that although the district reported zero instances of restraints, it keeps its own tally of incidents involving disabled children. Advocates say such actions, which are called “behavioral emergency inventions,” often come in the form of restraints. The Los Angeles Unified School District reported 103 interventions during the 2012 school year.


FUNDING THE CITY ATTORNEY’S OFFICE FOR INCOMING PROP 47 MISDEMEANOR CASES

Because Prop 47 downgraded a number of low-level felonies to misdemeanors, the City Attorney’s Office anticipates an influx of 13,500 new misdemeanor cases per year. (Before Prop 47, these cases would have been handled by the District Attorney’s Office.)

City Attorney Mike Feuer asked the city for $510,482 to hire more attorneys and staff to deal with the workload, as well as about $875,000 more per year, moving forward.

An LA Times editorial makes a really compelling argument in favor of City Council and Mayor Eric Garcetti approving that money request. Here’s a clip (but definitely read the whole thing, as it clarifies a number of things about Prop 47):

Many observers brush off misdemeanor convictions as unimportant because shorter sentences are too often not served at all due to jail crowding. But that’s part of what Proposition 47 is meant to fix. Thousands of inmates who formerly would have served multiyear terms in state prison are now serving that time in county jail cells because of the 2011 realignment law. Some of those will now see their sentences shortened, freeing up cells to allow each inmate to serve closer to his or her full sentence, while also relieving crowding in state prisons.

There is a discussion to be had about whether possession of some drugs should even be a misdemeanor, rather than an infraction such as marijuana possession, or even a crime at all — but Proposition 47 was not that discussion.

In the meantime, if misdemeanors — especially property crimes — are to be dealt with effectively, city attorneys in Los Angeles and elsewhere must have the resources to prosecute them. The crimes will continue to be committed and the police will continue to make their arrests. Prosecutors must continue to prosecute if the ballot measure is to work as intended.

Proposition 47 is expected to produce substantial savings, and some critics argued that a portion of that should go to cities to pay for exactly the kind of thing Feuer is seeking. It doesn’t. Lacey’s office will be relieved of part of its caseload, so it is arguable that the district attorney ought to relinquish funding to the city. Don’t hold your breath.

But the city may well realize savings from Proposition 47 too. That’s because misdemeanors require far less post-arrest time from police officers, who won’t have to wait at courthouses for hours, often on overtime, in order to testify at preliminary hearings.

Will that savings prove illusory, or will it be real and enough over the years to cover the city attorney’s new costs? Los Angeles residents and taxpayers deserve to know….


$263M FROM PRES. OBAMA FOR LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES’ BODY CAMERAS, TRAINING, AND MORE

On Monday, President Barack Obama announced a plan to provide $263 million in funding to work toward improving relations between law enforcement agencies and communities. That figure includes $75 million for 50,000 body cameras for officers. Obama will also increase oversight of how local police departments use military equipment they receive through federal programs.

The Washington Times’ Dave Boyer has the story. Here’s a clip:

The president is also asking his administration to draft an executive order creating a new task force that will examine “how to promote effective crime reduction while building public trust,” a White House official said. The panel will be led by Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey and former Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson.

The $263 million for cameras and training would be used by the federal government to match up to 50 percent spending by state and local police departments on body-worn cameras and storage for the equipment. The White House estimates that aspect of the program, which would cost $75 million, would help fund the purchase of 50,000 body-worn cameras.

The remainder of the money would be used to underwrite police training and outreach programs targeted at building better trust between law enforcement and their communities.

Helping pay for body-worn cameras is a step in the right direction, but the real test will be whether local law enforcement agencies are willing to use the devices.

The National Journal’s Dustin Volz has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

…It’s not just about money. A number of local police departments remain hesitant—if not downright skeptical—about body cameras, despite growing public demand and research that suggests positive benefits.

“At this juncture, it doesn’t change anything,” said Mike Puetz, a spokesman for the St. Petersburg Police Department in Florida, when asked about Obama’s funding pledge. “From our perspective, and I think for most agencies, we’re looking at the technology and looking at how it works in the real world regardless of who pays the bill.”


THE REFORM CHALLENGES FACING JIM MCDONNELL AS HE TAKES THE HELM OF THE LASD

LA Weekly’s Dennis Romero has an interesting story about the uphill battle newly sworn-in LA Sheriff Jim McDonnell faces to bring about real reform in the scandal-plagued department. Here’s a clip:

-Reforming the jails. The sheriff’s department runs the largest jail system in the country. One of the biggest problems with the system has been the department’s program of putting first-day rookies on lockup duty for two years before allowing them to hit the streets.

It can seed hatred and violence in budding cops.

McDonnell has said that’s one of the things he’ll change. But it will take some time. He’ll have to recruit people who actually want to work in jails, a different breed of officer.

Nonetheless, Bobb says, “The department on the custody side cannot wait much longer to have the reform.”

There are also widespread calls to reduce or even eliminate the time the some mentally ill inmates spend behind bars. They’re better treated in medical settings, the argument goes, and keeping them out of lockup could save taxpayers a lot of cash.

-Cracking down on beatdowns. Both inside and outside the jail system, the department’s way of dealing with cops accused of excessive force leaves much to be desired.

Eliasburg of the ACLU says that when it comes to “formal reviews of use of force, there’s a lot of work to be done.”

“Deputies should be made to know that if force is used it will be carefully reviewed and there will be consequences,” he said.

Posted in City Attorney, finance, Jim McDonnell, LASD, law enforcement, Obama, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 4 Comments »

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