STUDENTS, PARENTS CALL FOR END TO HARSH SCHOOL DISCIPLINE
Kids and parents from across California are traveling as part of the Alliance for Boys and Men of Color to rally at the capitol Thursday, urging lawmakers and the Board of Education to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline. State Assemblymembers Lorena Gonzalez of San Diego, Rob Bonta of Oakland, and Reggie Jones-Sawyer of Los Angeles will also be taking part in the rally. (Bonta and Jones-Sawyer co-chair the Select Committee on the Status of Boys and Men of Color.)
During the rally, students and their parents will talk about the importance of reducing the use of suspensions in California schools, particularly suspensions for actions considered “willful defiance.” Participants will also call for the savings from Proposition 47 to be fully represented in the state budget and allocated to mental health and rehabilitation, truancy and dropout prevention efforts, and victims services.
The group will urge lawmakers not to use the funds for school police forces.
“Nearly 70 percent of people in federal prison do not have high school diplomas. At least 44 percent of California inmates do not have high school diplomas,” said Luis Sanchez, Alliance for Boys and Men of Color, Education Workgroup Chairman. “It is imperative that we as a public invest in effective and pro-active programs and strategies that will keep our young people in school.”
LOS ANGELES-AREA SCHOOL DISTRICTS REDUCE TRUANCY FILINGS AND CUT SUSPENSIONS, BUT PROBLEMS REMAIN
School districts in the Los Angeles region are reducing suspensions and are citing fewer students for truancy, moving away from harsh punishments that keep kids—often the ones who need the most support—out of classrooms, and toward restorative justice models.
The statewide numbers dropped, too. Overall, California schools handed out 12.8% fewer suspensions during the 2014-2015 year than the previous year.
Lynwood Unified has emerged as a role model to other school districts for reducing willful defiance suspensions from 543 in 2013-14, to 183 in 2014-15. The district, which is located in South LA, also reported a truancy rate less than half the state average in 2013-14.
And in Orange County, Superior Court Judge Maria Hernandez, who presides over the juvenile court, overhauled the county’s punishment-focused truancy system in 2012. Youthful offenses, including truancy, are often kids’ responses to deeper issues like trauma or a troubled home life. Hernandez created a truancy response team made up of social workers, probation officers, and other people to respond to the needs of chronically truant kids and their families.
While districts lowered the number of citations for truancy, actual truancy—three 30 minute (or more) instances of unexcused out-of-class time—actually rose by more than 90,000 in California during the 2013-2014 school year over the previous year. This uptick may be due to schools implementing better attendance-tracking practices.
But while the state numbers rose, Long Beach Unified succeeded in lowering its chronic absence rate from 26.2% in the 2013-14 school year to 9.6% last year, following a district-wide push to educate parents about the long-term negative impacts chronic absence and truancy can have on students’ achievement and future.
Long Beach also cut its suspension rate by over 800 last year. Unfortunately, black Long Beach kids, who make up 14% of the student population, are still far more likely to receive suspensions than their peers. They account for a third of LBUSD suspensions. And while the district has greatly reduced the number of suspensions given for the catchall “willful defiance,” teachers are still removing disruptive kids from classrooms without formally suspending them.
Nadra Nittle has the story for The Chronicle of Social Change. Here’s a clip:
The California Attorney General’s Office posits that the uptick in the state truancy rate likely stems from schools improving how they monitor student attendance. It points to Long Beach Unified as a district that managed to lower its chronic absence rate, even as truancies rose.
LBUSD lowered its chronic absence rate from 26.18 percent in the 2013-14 school year to 9.6 percent the following year. The district of nearly 80,000 students credits the drop in chronic absences to parent outreach and to school officials scrutinizing district data to pinpoint the schools with the most absences.
“There were about 30 elementary schools with pretty poor attendance rates and high truancy rates,” said Erin Simon, director of LBUSD’s student support services division. “I spoke with the school staff and most importantly with the parents and the families about high chronic absence and chronic truancy.”
Simon discussed with families the consequences of truancy in kindergarten and first grade, including how it results in 83 percent of students being unable to read on grade level by third grade.
Long Beach Unified also expanded the reach of its School Attendance Review Board (SARB), a group made up of school officials and community members to curb absenteeism. The district was named a 2015 Model SARB district for its efforts to reduce school absences.
Back in September, California settled Ashker v. Brown, drastically limiting the use of isolation in state prisons. The lawsuit was brought on behalf of a group of ten Pelican Bay State Prison inmates who had spent at least 10 years in solitary confinement each.
(The plaintiffs led the prison hunger strikes of 2011 and 2013 protesting the conditions of solitary confinement in California prisons.)
Pishko takes a look at the “step down” program for inmates leaving the SHUs to reenter the general population, and wonders how the men will adjust after years in isolation. “How will these men adjust to a bustling prison yard when they haven’t even touched another human in decades?” Pishko writes. Here’s a clip from Pishko’s story:
This Ashker settlement comes on the heels of a steadily increasing drumbeat against indeterminate solitary confinement, as everyone from the DOJ to the United Nations has come out in opposition to the penal practice. In the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Davis v. Ayala, a California death penalty case, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that “research still confirms what this Court suggested over a century ago: Years on end of near-total isolation exact a terrible price.”
Releasing a group of inmates who have been touted for decades as “the worst of the worst” back into the prison mainstream can’t happen all at once. In an effort to unravel longstanding policies of extreme confinement, the CDCR has instituted the Step Down Program, which relies on a behavior-based model to allow inmates to graduate through five steps, each of which grants greater privileges, including phone calls and visitation. The program culminates in a release from SHU housing entirely. The idea is to slowly phase out long-term SHU housing, and release solitary inmates who follow all the rules back into the general prison population.
But how will these men adjust to a bustling prison yard when they haven’t even touched another human in decades?
The effects of solitary confinement have been proven to be psychologically and physiologically damaging. In connection with the Ashker case, Dr. Terry Kupers, a psychiatrist and expert in solitary confinement, filed a report in March of 2015 describing what he called SHU Post-Release Syndrome, a series of symptoms including “a sense of being overwhelmed by sensory stimulation, massive anxiety when in crowded places, hyperawareness of every noise or change in lighting, a tendency to seek isolation in contained spaces, and difficulty expressing oneself in close relationships” that only emerge after getting out of the SHU. Pelican Bay inmates reported the same feelings— almost a complete alteration of their personality—whether they were paroled or sent to the Step Down Program.
“People who have been consigned to solitary for many years feel inclined to isolate themselves after they are released,” Kupers writes to me in an email, “for example in their bedroom if they returned to the community, or in their cell if they went from SHU to general population in prison.” While Kupers says those with SHU Post-Release Syndrome can be successfully treated, they might continue to feel symptoms like social anxiety and depression. “The scars will remain,” he says.
The Step Down process begins when the inmate appears before the Departmental Review Board, a panel of CDCR administrators that reviews the inmate’s files and assesses placement in one of five steps. The warden of Pelican Bay, Clark E. Ducart, explains that this process is time-consuming because the board reviews an inmate’s entire file, which might be many binders long. “Some of them have volumes of documents,” he says, in a tone that implies those documents contained ugly reports of prisoner behavior.
The CDCR, for its part, has been trying to ensure that all eligible inmates appear before the board swiftly. Prior to the October settlement agreement, according to CDCR Deputy Press Secretary Terry Thornton, 2,174 inmates who were serving indeterminate terms have been reviewed; 1,671 of them have been released directly to general population housing, and 325 have been placed in the Step Down Program. (The current Pelican Bay SHU population is 772, and there are fewer than 2,300 inmates in SHUs throughout the CDCR.) This means that 75 percent of the men once deemed to be too dangerous for the general prison population are now living a comparatively “free” life.
OPINION: LOOKING FOR A SUPREME COURT JUSTICE TO TACKLE PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT
Writing for SCOTUSblog in February, President Barack Obama shared some of the qualities he’s searching for in a Supreme Court nominee to replace the late Antonin Scalia. President Obama said he will choose someone committed to “impartial justice” and who “grasps the way [the law] affects the daily reality of people’s lives in a big, complicated democracy, and in rapidly changing times.”
In an op-ed for the Huffington Post, attorney Bidish Sarma calls on Obama to nominate someone who will hold prosecutors accountable, and weed out misconduct, noting that the US Supreme Court has unique powers to end the era of the “invincible prosecutor.”
In the past, we at WLA have pointed out a number of stories of prosecutorial misconduct involving breaches such as withholding exculpatory evidence from the defense, coercing witnesses, and perjury. Orange County is grappling with jailhouse informant-related misconduct scandals that has plagued the county District Attorney’s Office. The alleged misconduct resulted in the removal of the entire DA’s office from the high-profile case of mass shooter Scott Dekraai and the unraveling of a number of other cases.
Link to Orange County DA stuff
And it’s rare that courts, juries, and bar associations will hold errant prosecutors accountable.
There are five primary means to keep prosecutors from overstepping the bounds of propriety and fairness: (1) criminal courts can overturn convictions obtained as a result of prosecutorial misconduct and dismiss unwarranted charges; (2) juries in civil courts can hold district attorney offices liable for prosecutorial misconduct; (3) professional associations and disciplinary counsel can fine, suspend, or disbar prosecutors who violate ethical canons; (4) district attorney offices can meaningfully train their assistants and punish those who engage in misconduct; and (5) the Department of Justice can initiate proceedings against prosecutors who violate federal civil rights legislation.
Option 1 is not promising. Courts are reluctant to reverse convictions, especially in jurisdictions where the judges themselves are elected officials. The Thompson majority demolished option 2. And, as anyone who with experience in the criminal justice system can tell you, options 3, 4, and 5 are almost never utilized. Disciplinary actions against prosecutors are extremely rare, if not non-existent in most jurisdictions. Though some offices provide sufficient training, the conduct that put John Thompson behind bars is all too common when district attorneys are under intense pressure to secure convictions to succeed in competitive elections. Finally, the Department of Justice has hardly ever enforced certain laws that impose fines on prosecutors for their civil rights violations.
But, the Supreme Court has the power and influence to bring all five of these options to life. If it begins to infuse meaning into the due process and equal protection doctrines meant to protect criminal defendants from prosecutorial misconduct and overreaching, lower courts will follow its lead (and option 1 will become viable again). If the Court revisits its tight-fisted jurisprudence on prosecutorial civil liability, juries can speak into the system and hold offices accountable again. And, if the Supreme Court puts meaningful prosecutorial accountability on its agenda, bar associations and district attorneys and perhaps even the DOJ might acknowledge incentives to play a broader role in regulating how the most powerful players in the criminal justice system administer that power.
The Supreme Court has for too long advanced and entrenched an ideal of the “invincible prosecutor.” The nomination of a new justice provides the president with an opportunity to do more than look for someone with stellar credentials. If he truly values someone’s experiences and ability to see how the Court’s opinions affect people’s daily lives, President Obama should nominate someone who will, among other things, take prosecutorial accountability seriously.
Josue “Josh” Muniz was standing with his girlfriend during the lunch period at in the quad of Arroyo Valley High School in San Bernardino, when he decided to give his female friend a hug. A school police officer saw the hug and told Muniz, who was at the time 17-years old and a junior, to step away from the girl. Muniz did so, but when the girlfriend began to get upset he briefly stepped back to her side and gave her a small quick hug to comfort her. Then, according to Muniz, there was no more contact. His girlfriend walked away and that was that.
However, the incident was apparently not over for the school police officer, according to Muniz, who told reporter Susan Ferriss of The Center of Public Integrity that the school cop barreled his direction saying that the boy should come with him. Muniz was starting to comply, when the officer reached out and “put his hand on my throat,” Muniz told Ferriss. “That’s when I start freaking out. He tells me to stand up. And that’s when his grip on my throat got a little stronger and when I started really panicking.”
A frightened Muniz pushed at the officer to get him “just a little bit off me.”
Ferriss reports that the twosome tumbled to the ground and, according to a civil lawsuit that Muniz, now 20, has filed, the officer “showered” the teenager with pepper spray, handcuffed him, dragged him into a nearby security office by the cuffs and planted a knee in between his shoulder blades while delivering “multiple blows” as Muniz lay face down on a carpet, producing bruises and scrapes to Muniz’ head and face.
After it was over, the officer read the adolescent his rights and placed Muniz under arrest — for alleged misdemeanor assault on an officer.
“In fact,” she writes, “he was one of tens of thousands of juveniles arrested by school police in San Bernardino County over the last decade. The arrests were so numerous in this high-desert region known as the Inland Empire that they surpassed arrests of juveniles by municipal police in some of California’s biggest cities.”
Unnerved by the battering and the charges brought against him (which were later dropped in court), Josue Muniz dropped out of school, an all too common response when kids are criminalized instead of helped when they break minor school rules, or briefly act out because of some trauma at home. Yet, eventually, Muniz spoke out about his experience. Most kids don’t.
SCHOOL DISTRICTS BUCKING THE TREND TOWARD REFORM
After the Columbine school massacre in 1999, fearful school districts across the nation began enacting draconian zero tolerance policies that, in an effort to protect students, went catastrophically overboard. As research has shown us in recent years, these well-intentioned policies created widespread damage by criminalizing kids unnecessarily and using minor incidents to shove students on a path that led out of school and into the juvenile justice system, with lower income students of color being hurt the worst.
Recent trends in school discipline reform have persuaded many California school districts like Los Angeles Unified to reach agreements with their school police to only arrest students in cases involving public safety, not for behavior infractions that can be better handled by school administrators.
But, despite the current trend for reform, in San Bernardino County, arrests by school police in two of that county’s districts—San Bernardino and Fontana—have remained shockingly high.
In her series for The Center of Public Integrity, with companion stories on KQED, with reporter Amy Isackson, Ferriss delves into the tales of three different kids as she looks at the larger alarming pattern of questionable arrests of students in Fontana and San Bernardino school districts, a pattern that some describe as having reached epidemic proportions.
Here’s a clip from Ferriss’ story:
The San Bernardino City Unified School District, where Muniz was a student, has its own police department, with 28 sworn officers, eight support staff and more than 50 campus security officers trained in handcuffing and baton use.
The department made more than 30,000 arrests of minors between 2005 and 2014. The area has a reputation for youth-gang crime, but only about 9 percent of those arrests were for alleged felonies. Instead, the vast majority of arrests were for minors violating a variety of city ordinances — such as graffiti violations or daytime curfews — and for nearly 9,900 allegations of disturbing the peace. That’s a frequently-used catchall that raises questions among critics about whether most of these arrests were necessary for public safety.
The department made more than 30,000 arrests of minors between 2005 and 2014. The area has a reputation for youth-gang crime, but only about 9 percent of those arrests were for alleged felonies. Instead, the vast majority of arrests were for minors violating a variety of city ordinances — such as graffiti violations or daytime curfews — and for nearly 9,900 allegations of disturbing the peace. That’s a frequently-used catchall that raises questions among critics about whether most of these arrests were necessary for public safety.
The bulk of the minors arrested or referred to school police represent some of the most academically vulnerable demographics in the state: low-income Latino and black kids, as well as kids with disabilities, in disproportionate numbers, according to California arrest statistics and national education data examined by the Center for Public Integrity.
Based on 2011-2012 data collected from U.S. schools by the U.S. Department of Education, the latest available, Muniz’s Arroyo Valley High referred students to law enforcement at a rate of 65 for every 1,000 students. That was more than 10 times the national and California state rate of 6 per 1,000.
Those kinds of statistics raise red flags for critics who charge that school officers in some districts, especially those with substantial minority and special-needs populations, are turning what should be minor disciplinary indiscretions into criminal justice matters that put kids on a road to bigger problems — the so-called ‘school-to-prison pipeline.” In San Bernardino, cops, school officials, parents and community groups have started wrestling with how to balance demands for order — and security — without criminalizing kids.
HUMILIATING SEARCHES AND BRUTALIZED SPECIAL NEEDS KIDS
Ferriss also writes of the case of a middle school girl enrolled in the San Bernardino city district who, last April, was allegedly ordered to remove some of her clothing, unhook her bra and shake her breasts to see if she was hiding marijuana while a male school security officer stood by, according to the girl’s mother, Anita Wilson-Pringle.
And in the community of Chino, Ferriss describes the case of a student with Down syndrome who was roughed up and arrested at school in a manner that illustrates the concerns of juvenile advocates that special-needs kids are getting disproportionately criminalized at school in these same districts.
LAPD TO RECEIVE $1 MILLION IN FEDERAL FUNDING FOR BODY CAMS, DESPITE ACLU OBJECTIONS
On Monday, US Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced Department of Justice funding of over $23 million for officer-worn camera programs would go to 73 police departments across the nation, including $1.1 million to the Los Angeles Police Dept., in an effort to increase law enforcement transparency and improve police-community relations.
Earlier this month, the ACLU of Southern California urged the Department of Justice not to contribute funding to the LAPD’s body cam program, citing concerns about department policy to keep most video footage of officer-involved shootings under wraps.
Among other California recipients, Pasadena and San Bernardino police departments were awarded $250,000 and $546,502, respectively.
“This vital pilot program is designed to assist local jurisdictions that are interested in exploring and expanding the use of body-worn cameras in order to enhance transparency, accountability and credibility,” AG Lynch said during the announcement. “The impact of body-worn cameras touches on a range of outcomes that build upon efforts to mend the fabric of trust, respect and common purpose that all communities need to thrive.”
“Everybody wants body cameras on deputies and officers for the accountability piece, and I’m supportive of that, because it gives us a greater context to see what the full story was when we go to evaluate an incident,” said Sheriff McDonnell. “The downside is just the tremendous cost.”
McDonnell points out that the actual purchase of the cameras, and even the cost of storing the footage, are a tiny fraction of what it would cost to train and maintain personnel to handle all that video.
“When somebody is arrested, they get a traffic citation, they are involved in a use of force, so they bring litigation against the department, they want that tape, they want that video to be able to use for their case, so we go through discovery motions to provide that,” McDonnell explained. “The staff necessary who would be trained and certified that they have the ability to be able to pull the appropriate length of video and then to be able to go in and pixelate where appropriate uninvolved, innocent parties, to be able to present that then for court or if we’re going to make it public, that piece there alone is a tremendous added expense…”
The sheriff also expressed concern over the LA County Board of Supervisors’ approval of a 3,885-bed jail to replace the crumbling Men’s Central Jail after three separate consultant groups came back with recommendations closer to a 5,000-bed facility.
McDonnell has a lot more to say,so go listen to the segment in its entirety.
HOW THE PURPOSE OF SCHOOL OFFICERS SHIFTED FROM BUILDING COMMUNITY-RELATIONS TO ARRESTING STUDENTS, AND HOW SOME SCHOOL DISTRICTS ARE ADDRESSING THE PROBLEM
The Atlantic’s Melinda Anderson gives a history of cops in schools (hint: officers weren’t originally placed in grade schools to handcuff 4-year-olds throwing tantrums) and why having cops on campus leads to over-criminalization of kids.
Some school districts are making efforts to undo the school-to-prison-pipeline, in part by pushing for specialized training for officers as well as eliminating police involvement in school discipline.
Here are some clips:
The origin of school-employed police—who are often officially referred to as “school resource officers” (SROs)—dates back to the 1950s. It arose as part of an effort in Flint, Michigan, to foster relationships between local police and youth. That basic idea then spread to other locales, where SROs soon took on roles ranging from counselors and coaches to tutors and mentors. But in the 1990s, the initiative’s focus underwent a dramatic policy shift, with SROs drifting from their mission as community liaisons, largely thanks to the Justice Department’s “COPS in Schools” grant program. Between 1999 and 2005, the department’s community-policing division reportedly awarded in excess of $750 million in grants to more than 3,000 law-enforcement agencies, resulting in more than 6,500 newly hired SROs. And because the recruitment and training of these officers were largely overseen by conventional police departments, board and district officials—who are typically the decision-makers when it comes to school policies—had little, if any, clout over these efforts.
The sharp increase in campus-based law enforcement coincides with the 1999 Columbine High School shootings, which left 15 dead, including two teen gunmen, and prompted calls across the country for a stronger police presence on school grounds…
Combined with the rapid expansion of zero-tolerance discipline in schools that accompanied the War on Drugs, these isolated yet seminal incidents of mass violence help explain the upsurge in school resource officers, making them a fixture in many of the nation’s schools. A recent survey conducted by the Department of Education found that 43 percent of public schools employ security staff, including school resource officers, while 28 percent have “sworn law enforcement officers routinely carrying a firearm.”
While law enforcement’s presence at schools is hardly a new phenomenon, its value and purpose has lately grown especially contentious. As police officers, those engaged in school-based law-enforcement are, in a way, “beat cops” who are often called on to serve as school disciplinarian.
A recurring theme in debates over school police involves concern over the officers’ reportedly poor training; in McKinney, for example, the officers receive no special training before being dispatched to schools. In some cases, questions have also been raised about the amount of funding invested in such programs. In Chicago, for instance, “school police services”—the result of an agreement between the city’s police department and the mayor-appointed school board—cost taxpayers $13 million in 2013, a period during which Chicago students were protesting school-budget cuts and a shortage of school counselors.
Meanwhile, a group of parents, students, and community members in the Bronx, alarmed at the high number of arrests and summonses issued by SROs in their schools, called for a public hearing in 2012 with the New York City Department of Education and the NYPD Safety Office. That discussion led to monthly meetings and, eventually, a training workshop for New York City school police—known in the city as “school safety agents”—at which rookie officers are tasked with reflecting on racial disparities in campus-arrest data, discussing the often hidden costs of arrests and summonses on students, and engaging in conflict resolution through role play. Since the trainings commenced in 2012, Bronx schools have seen a significant fall in arrests and summonses, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union. While the Bronx still outranks New York’s four other boroughs when it comes to the total number of arrests and summonses, the Bronx’s 2011-12 school year reports cited by the NYCLU showed 256 arrests and 796 summonses, compared to 86 arrests and 285 summonses in 2014-15.
USING THE ADVERSE CHILDHOOD EXPERIENCES QUESTIONNAIRE AS A SCREENING TOOL IN NON-MEDICAL SETTINGS IS…COMPLICATED
The 1997 Adverse Childhood Experiences study, by Vincent Felitti and Robert Anda, examined the long-term health effects trauma (ACEs)—like abuse, neglect, and divorce—have on kids.
The study includes an ACEs screening questionnaire, which has become the benchmark for measuring childhood trauma. The quiz produces an ACEs score based upon how many times a person answers “yes” to the ten questions.
As the use of the ACEs test spreads from its original pediatrics setting, to schools and the juvenile justice system, some say unintended complications will undoubtedly arise.
Major training is required before an ACEs screening system can be implemented, according to experts. And schools and juvenile facilities have to be careful about what questions they ask kids because of mandatory reporting laws. Problems can arise if a child answers “yes” to the abuse-related questions, for instance, and the test administrator isn’t trained to do further appropriate questioning, but follows the mandatory reporting laws requiring the involvement of child protective services. This would likely result in the unnecessary splitting up of families if there has been a bad experience or bad conditions in the home, but the family is otherwise loving and reasonably stable.
Some of the questions can be tweaked and posed to parents, however, to get more of an overview of a child’s wellbeing while staying away from the questions that trigger mandatory reporting.
“Before you ask these [ACEs] questions, you have to have a plan of action when the answer is yes,” said Blodgett. “Screening for trauma is more dicey where you get into education settings, where there’s a big conversation around this right now.”
“Most schools don’t have the capacity to figure out how to respond if there are identified ACEs,” he said. “These systems weren’t designed as identification and treatment systems. That’s when issues about potentially increased reporting become much more serious.”
For Robert Anda, a co-author of the influential 1997 ACEs study, the ACEs questionnaire is more about taking a public health approach than a tool for mandatory reporting. In screening parents, he suggests that other measures could be developed to measure risk of maltreatment without compelling pediatricians to turn to child protective services.
“ACEs can be measured safely in parents to give you an index of what may be a risk for the parents and the whole family and the child,” said Anda in an interview The Chronicle of Social Change at the One Child, Many Hands conference earlier this year at the University of Pennsylvania. “You can get other indirect measures that aren’t going to [lead to] mandatory reporting, including, I think, measuring some of the developmental functions as a proxy and stay away from the mandatory reporting.”
“We have to dig deeper and say ‘what’s going on,’ before making a decision about adjudication.”
The Center for Youth Wellness has spearheaded the use of ACEs screening tools in its pediatric clinic in the Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood of San Francisco. The California Department of Justice has looked toward the center as a model in creating its statewide trauma screening efforts, according to staff in the office of California Attorney General Harris.
The center uses the 10 questions from the original ACEs study, but has also added seven more factors that contribute to toxic stress for the low-income population served by the clinic, including homelessness, involvement in the foster care system, community violence and discrimination, among others.
But the Center for Youth Wellness’s Cecilia Chen cautions that the tool that the center uses is only designed for a specific context.
“Our screening tool is designed to be used by pediatric health care professionals,” said Chen, interim director of policy at the center. “We don’t advocate for its use in the juvenile justice and education systems. Tools don’t always translate across different sectors, and we really don’t know what the unintended consequences would be in other settings.”
Since the center has been using the ACEs tool, it has not seen an increase of children reported to child protective services, Chen said. But even in a pediatric setting, she says, training is necessary to administer ACEs and not jump to conclusions after reviewing the results.
SALINAS HIGH’S DISCIPLINE TURNAROUND THROUGH THE POSITIVE BEHAVIORAL INTERVENTIONS AND SUPPORTS MODEL
By replacing harsh school discipline with the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) program, the number of suspensions at Salinas High School has dropped by 70% in just two years.
Salinas High has used money allocated for disadvantaged kids to hire a full-time intervention specialist to run the PBIS program, which teaches expectations for behavior to kids just like a regular school subject.
PBIS has been such a huge success at the school that Juan Govea, a Salinas biology teacher, traveled to the White House to talk about its implementation and results at a round table discussion on school discipline.
Govea was invited to the roundtable based on a previous fellowship he received and the contacts he’d made. He was not an official representative of the Salinas Union High School District. He made the trip to share the huge steps Salinas High is making in student discipline.
“They asked me to take part so they could get a teacher’s perspective. Everybody else there was an administrator or some other capacity at a school district,” Govea said Thursday in an interview.
To subsequent applause, he told the gathering that in the two years since a new behavior program was installed, Salinas High has cut its suspension rate by a whopping 70 percent.
“It’s significant when you know that the kids being suspended — typically English Learners, male, minorities — need as much school time as possible. So when they’re losing it to suspension that puts them at an even greater disadvantage,” he said.
“That 70 percent is now getting a more positive based reinforcement. It allows us to then focus on that 30 percent that is a little bit tougher.”
The Salinas district has adopted the Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports program, which reinforces the rules of behavior and the importance of following them.
“As teachers we identify the kids who need intervention. Brief class lessons during the day reinforce the rules — why tardiness is bad, why not following the dress code is bad,” Govea said.
PBIS succeeds at Salinas High with an intervention specialist working full-time to manage the program, and who gathers a team with teachers, staff, vice principal, counselors. It’s a huge undertaking, Govea said. But the school wisely used funding through the new Local Control Funding Formula to create the full-time focus on PBIS.
One of the positive outcomes Govea has seen is “showing assistant principals how harmful suspensions are for students.” Rather than using suspensions as a first course of action, “how do we address it without putting a shackle on their leg?”
A VERY RARE CALIFORNIA GRAY WOLF SIGHTING
A lone gray wolf appears to be moving through Siskiyou County, says the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. (Note: this is not the beloved OR-7 who made news as the first wolf in California since 1924 when he crossed the border from Oregon four years ago.)
Officials said that earlier this summer they began receiving reports of sightings of a large, dark-furred animal. Wildlife authorities set up trail cameras in an effort to catch a glimpse of the animal.
In early May, images from those cameras showed a large, dark, single animal.
In June, a state biologist found tracks believed to be that of a wolf. Cameras placed at that location yielded images of a ‘large, dark-colored canid’ on July 24.
THE ANTI-RECIDIVISM COALITION’S ROBY SO & CARLOS CERVANTES GIVE MEN LEAVING PRISON A RIDE HOME & HELP THEM ACCLIMATE
Carlos Cervantes and Roby So, members of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC), pick up men newly released former third-strikers from prison to help them through their often overwhelming first day on the outside.
Through their Ride Home Program, Carlos and Roby, who spent 11 and 12 years in prison themselves, often travel hours to meet people exiting prison, to help them acclimate and bring them up-to-date on what they missed while they were locked up.
When men and women come out of lock-up, they are often given just $200 to start over with, and if they don’t have family waiting to meet them, they have to navigate the unfamiliar alone.
NY Times’ Jon Mooallem has a great longread (and documentary video) on Carlos and Roby and their Ride Home program. Here are some clips:
Unlike typical parolees, third-strikers are often notified of their release just before it happens, sometimes only a day in advance. (It can take months for a judge to rule after papers are filed.) They’re usually sent out the door with $200, a not-insubstantial share of which they often pay back to the prison for a lift to the nearest Greyhound station: An inmate might be released from a prison outside Sacramento and expected to find his way to a parole officer in San Diego, 500 miles away, within 48 hours. Stanford’s Three Strikes Project was setting up transitional housing for its clients, but initially, a lot of the third-strikers weren’t making it there — they were just blowing away in the wind. Then, Carlos and Roby started driving around the state and waiting outside to catch them.
The job started as a simple delivery service, to carry some of these discombobulated bodies from one place to another. In late 2013, the director of the Three Strikes Project, Michael Romano, contacted a nonprofit called the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, which has built up a close community of formerly incarcerated people in Los Angeles. (Romano, who is also an A.R.C. board member, is a friend of mine.) Romano asked if A.R.C. could dispatch one of its members to pick up third-strikers and drive them to their housing near the Staples Center in Los Angeles. A.R.C. recommended Carlos, a dependable young man just three years out of prison himself, who — most important — also had his own car and a credit card to front money for gas. Carlos was hired, for $12 an hour, to fetch an old man named Terry Critton from a prison in Chino. On the way back, Critton asked if Carlos wouldn’t mind stopping at Amoeba Records, so he could look at jazz LPs — he’d been a big collector. They wound up spending almost two hours in the store, just looking. Then, Critton wanted a patty melt, so Carlos found a place called Flooky’s, where they ordered two and caught the end of a Dodgers game. It was extraordinary: All day, Carlos could see this man coming back to life. He wanted to do more pickups, and he wanted to get his friend Roby involved. He told his bosses he needed a partner.
By now, Carlos and Roby — officially, A.R.C.’s Ride Home Program — have done about three dozen pickups, either together or individually, waking up long before dawn and driving for hours toward prison towns deep in the desert or up the coast. Then they spend all day with the guy (so far they’ve picked up only men), taking him to eat, buying him some clothes, advising him, swapping stories, dialing his family on their cellphones or astonishing him by magically calling up Facebook pictures of nieces and nephews he’s never met — or just sitting quietly, to let him depressurize. The conversation with those shellshocked total strangers doesn’t always flow, Roby told me. It helps to have a wingman.
‘‘The first day is everything,’’ Carlos says — a barrage of insignificant-seeming experiences with potentially big consequences. Consider, for example, a friend of his and Roby’s: Julio Acosta, who was paroled in 2013 after 23 years inside. Acosta describes stopping for breakfast near the prison that first morning as if it were a horrifying fever dream: He kept looking around the restaurant for a sniper, as in the chow hall in prison, and couldn’t stop gawking at the metal knives and forks, ‘‘like an Aztec looking at Cortez’s helmet,’’ he says. It wasn’t until he got up from the booth and walked to the men’s room, and a man came out the door and said, ‘‘How you doin’?’’ and Acosta said, ‘‘Fine,’’ that Acosta began to feel, even slightly, like a legitimate part of the environment around him. He’d accomplished something. He’d made a treacherous trip across an International House of Pancakes. He’d peed.
But what if Acosta had accidentally bumped into a waitress, knocking over her tray and shattering dishes? What if that man had glared at him, instead of greeting him, or snapped at him to get the hell out of the way? Ann Jacobs, director of the Prisoner Re-entry Institute at New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, told me that even the smallest bungled interactions on the outside leave recently incarcerated people feeling ‘‘like they’re being exposed, like they’re incompetent. It’s feeding into their worst fear, their perception of themselves as an impostor who’s incapable of living a normal life.’’ Carlos and Roby have learned to steer their guys through that perilous newness — and to be nonchalant about it, to make the sudden enormity of life feel unthreatening, even fun. On one ride home earlier this year, I watched a third-striker venture inside a convenience store, alone, to buy a candy bar while Roby pumped gas. The man seemed emboldened after a few hours of freedom, actually hopping a bit as he walked. But then he tripped over the curb and tumbled forward, arms thrashing, nearly face-planting in front of the door. Roby just shrugged and said, ‘‘Well, you’ve got to get that one out of the way.’’
‘‘Been a long time since I looked at a menu,’’ Dale Hammock said. He was sheltered in a corner of a booth at a Denny’s near the prison. The restaurant was overcrowded, loud and full of the kind of hyperdifferentiated nonsense that ordinary Americans swim through every day, never assuming it can or should be fully understood. But Hammock was having trouble sorting the breakfast menu from the lunch menu, and the regular Denny’s menu from the Denny’s Skillets Across America limited-time menu. There were two kinds of hot sauce and four different sweeteners on the table. On the Heinz ketchup bottle, it said: ‘‘Up for a Game? Trivial Pursuit Tomato Ketchup.’’
The first meal after a long prison sentence is an ostensible celebration laced with stress. The food tastes incredible. (Roby gained 60 pounds after his release, desperate to try the Outback Steakhouse Bloomin’ Onion and other fast-casual delicacies he’d seen commercials for on TV.) But ordering — making any choice — can be unnerving. Waiters are intimidating; waitresses, especially pretty ones, can be petrifying. So at Denny’s, Roby started things off, ordering a chocolate milk. Hammock ordered a chocolate milk, too. Then he reconsidered and said: ‘‘I want a milkshake! I’ll just have that!’’ He ordered a Grand Slam. Then he changed it to a Lumberjack Slam. And when the waiter shot back with ‘‘Toast: white, wheat or sourdough?’’ Hammock went stiff momentarily, then answered: ‘‘Toast, I guess.’’
KEEPING KIDS IN SCHOOL (AND AWAY FROM THE JUSTICE SYSTEM) IN FRESNO
The 2013 KKIS conference was the first concrete step in changing the tone of the conversation around truancy. At the core of the 2013 conference was a recognition that students need to be physically in school in order to receive the state’s educational services. Being deprived of these services, as inevitably happens when one is chronically absent, has been tied to other problems; research presenters at the conference utilized statewide data showing a direct link between missing school, suspension from school and ultimately dropping out.
Making this link clear to parents, guardians and other stakeholders is the most important part of the work that KKIS is doing, said Gordon Jackson, director of the coordinated student support division in the California Department of Education, in a phone interview.
“Of course, all across the span of economics or earned income, there is this common thread among parents of wanting good things to happen for their kids,” Jackson said. “There is really a focus on the challenge of catching students early, before they develop truancy patterns, and involving the parents.”
This idea has been taken to heart in Fresno County, where the regional KKIS focus group and other stakeholders are working to improve academic performance of elementary and middle school students in order to prevent their eventual court-system involvement. This means targeting those with complicated home situations, and even creating personalized plans for how students will get to school. There is a particular focus on literacy, as studies have shown that students with strong reading engagement experience less absenteeism.
According to education specialists, one promising solution to this excessive absenteeism (and to numerous other justice questions) is a coordinated system of restorative justice.
Restorative justice programs involve two crucial components: a discussion among those involved with the crime or truancy, and a concrete plan for rectifying the situation. The oldest such program in the state, VORP of the Central Valley, was founded in 1982 by Ron and Roxanne Claasen, but has only relatively recently gained the momentum to become a part of the local juvenile justice vocabulary.
For the Claasens, who also founded the Discipline That Restores program at Fresno Pacific University, these techniques are an important part of getting students to reconnect with their school communities. After involvement with restorative justice techniques, VORP estimates that eight of every ten juvenile offenders successfully move on from crime and return to school. Instituted across school districts, these results are significant; when comparable California communities have instituted district-wide restorative justice policies, they have cut suspensions by up to 60 percent in just five years.
WHAT THE CITIES WITH THE BIGGEST POLICE FORCES PAY FOR MISCONDUCT SETTLEMENTS & COURT JUDGMENTS
The ten cities with the largest police departments paid out a total of $248.7 million last year in officer misconduct settlements and court judgments. That number is up 48% from 2010′s grand total of $168.3 million. Between those five years the ten cities paid out a combined $1.02 billion. New York City was responsible for a whopping $601.3 million, more than half of that 2010-2014 grand total. In comparison, Los Angeles, while still among the top three cities that spent the most, had a five year total of $57.1 million.
Los Angeles, Baltimore, Phoenix, unlike the other seven cities, experienced a decline in payout amounts between 2010-2014. And in LA, 39% of payout dollars were spent on misconduct cases. In Chicago, misconduct cases accounted for 89% of the total.
Cities are cutting more checks to people who were wrongfully imprisoned years ago because of police misconduct. As more wrongful convictions come to light, jury verdicts have risen, with some now exceeding $2 million a year behind bars.
New York City agreed last year to pay $41 million to five black and Hispanic men imprisoned for the 1989 beating and rape of a jogger in Central Park, then freed after another man confessed and DNA evidence confirmed his story. City lawyers under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg had fought a lawsuit brought by the five men, which alleged that detectives coerced confessions from them as teens. Under current Mayor Bill de Blasio, the city agreed to a settlement equal to about $1 million for each year each man spent behind bars.
New York City Corporation Counsel Zachary Carter said the settlement “should not be construed as an acknowledgment that the convictions of these five plaintiffs were the result of law-enforcement misconduct.”
Chicago has been trying to resolve cases stemming from allegations that detectives, led by former commander Jon Burge, tortured black and Hispanic suspects with implements like electric cattle prods, coercing confessions from them and putting them behind bars from the 1970s to early 1990s for crimes they didn’t commit. Those cases have cost the city more than $60 million in payouts. In May, Chicago launched a $5.5 million reparations fund for some of the victims.
A Chicago police spokesman called Mr. Burge’s actions a “disgrace.” Mr. Burge was convicted of federal perjury and obstruction charges in 2010. Mr. Burge, who has been released from prison, declined to comment.
In New York, settlements and judgments in misconduct cases hit $165 million in fiscal 2014, up from $93.8 million in 2010. Both New York and Los Angeles, which paid out $10.7 million on such cases last year, now are tracking claims more closely and trying new approaches to risk management.
New York City’s government-run hospitals were for years the city’s leading source of liability payouts, primarily because of medical-malpractice settlements. But beginning in the 2010 fiscal year, the police department surpassed the city hospitals in total liability payouts.
The trend caught the attention of New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, who launched a program to track legal claims called ClaimStat. “Instead of accepting rising claims and settlements as the cost of doing business,” Mr. Stringer says, the city can use the data to identify underlying problems and make changes to prevent future suits.
The number of new claims filed against New York City police, including allegations of police misconduct and damage from car crashes, rose 71% between 2004 and 2013, according to the comptroller.
“While the filing of a lawsuit does not prove any misconduct on the part of an officer, the department is aware of the increasing number of actions filed against the NYPD,” a spokeswoman said, adding that the department is “addressing these very real concerns” with the creation of a risk-management bureau and police litigation unit.
The settlement with Mr. Garner’s estate came nearly a year after his confrontation with officers who accused him of selling untaxed cigarettes—a scene captured in a widely viewed video. Mr. Stringer said the settlement “acknowledges the tragic nature of Mr. Garner’s death while balancing my office’s fiscal responsibility to the city.”
LA COUNTY SUPERVISORS MAY NAME A CHILD WELFARE CZAR TODAY
The LA County Board of Supervisors held a closed-door meeting Tuesday to interview two candidates to lead the Office of Child Protection, an entity recommended by a Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection convened to jumpstart much-needed reform efforts in the county child welfare system.
The Supes are slated to interview two more candidates today (Thursday), and could possibly issue their final decision today, as well.
Fesia Davenport, who has served as the interim child welfare czar, is reportedly among those being considered for the position.
Fesia Davenport, who the board appointed as interim director of the office in February, is a candidate for the position, according to Wendy Garen, president and CEO of the Ralph Parsons Foundation, which was one of 17 foundations to endorse the BRC recommendations in a letter to the Board of Supervisors.
“It’s been a robust process. There are outside candidates,” Garen said. “I do believe that Fesia [Davenport] is a candidate and that her performance to date has been remarkable.”
Garen said she has no knowledge about the other candidates and, due to that, she does not know whether Davenport is the best candidate for the job.
The creation of an Office of Child Protection was the most prominent recommendation to emerge from the Los Angeles County Blue Ribbon on Child Protection’s (BRC) December 2013 interim recommendations and again in its final report in April.
“I hope that the OCP director who the board ultimately hires is a person that is imbued with many of the traits that the child protection commission envisioned initially,” Leslie Gilbert-Lurie, co-chair of the transition team tasked with implementing the BRC recommendations, said in a phone interview Tuesday. “A strong leader with experience in child welfare who is collaborative and imaginative, and not afraid to stand up to the existing institutions.”
TO CHANGE “CHALLENGING” KIDS’ BEHAVIOR – DONT: PUNISH AND REWARD; DO: HELP KIDS UNDERSTAND AND LEARN FROM THEIR ACTIONS
Katherine Reynolds Lewis has an excellent longread for the July/August issue of Mother Jones Magazine about psychologist Ross Greene’s game-changing discipline methods of teaching kids problem-solving skills instead of employing the now largely discredited punishment-reward system developed by B.F. Skinner in the mid-20th century.
The idea is that, punishing children who are acting out, and who are often called “challenging,” only exacerbates kids’ underlying problems and helps to push them through the school-to-prison pipeline. Kids brains have not developed enough to have control over their behavior and emotions, so punishing them, instead of helping them understand the “why” behind their behavior, is extremely counterproductive, according to Greene’s theory.
Here are some clips:
…consequences have consequences. Contemporary psychological studies suggest that, far from resolving children’s behavior problems, these standard disciplinary methods often exacerbate them. They sacrifice long-term goals (student behavior improving for good) for short-term gain—momentary peace in the classroom.
University of Rochester psychologist Ed Deci, for example, found that teachers who aim to control students’ behavior—rather than helping them control it themselves—undermine the very elements that are essential for motivation: autonomy, a sense of competence, and a capacity to relate to others. This, in turn, means they have a harder time learning self-control, an essential skill for long-term success. Stanford University’s Carol Dweck, a developmental and social psychologist, has demonstrated that even rewards—gold stars and the like—can erode children’s motivation and performance by shifting the focus to what the teacher thinks, rather than the intrinsic rewards of learning.
In a 2011 study that tracked nearly 1 million schoolchildren over six years, researchers at Texas A&M University found that kids suspended or expelled for minor offenses—from small-time scuffles to using phones or making out—were three times as likely as their peers to have contact with the juvenile justice system within a year of the punishment. (Black kids were 31 percent more likely than white or Latino kids to be punished for similar rule violations.) Kids with diagnosed behavior problems such as oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and reactive attachment disorder—in which very young children, often as a result of trauma, are unable to relate appropriately to others—were the most likely to be disciplined.
Which begs the question: Does it make sense to impose the harshest treatments on the most challenging kids? And are we treating chronically misbehaving children as though they don’t want to behave, when in many cases they simply can’t?
That might sound like the kind of question your mom dismissed as making excuses. But it’s actually at the core of some remarkable research that is starting to revolutionize discipline from juvenile jails to elementary schools. Psychologist Ross Greene, who has taught at Harvard and Virginia Tech, has developed a near cult following among parents and educators who deal with challenging children. What Richard Ferber’s sleep-training method meant to parents desperate for an easy bedtime, Greene’s disciplinary method has been for parents of kids with behavior problems, who often pass around copies of his books, The Explosive Child and Lost at School, as though they were holy writ.
His model was honed in children’s psychiatric clinics and battle-tested in state juvenile facilities, and in 2006 it formally made its way into a smattering of public and private schools. The results thus far have been dramatic, with schools reporting drops as great as 80 percent in disciplinary referrals, suspensions, and incidents of peer aggression. “We know if we keep doing what isn’t working for those kids, we lose them,” Greene told me. “Eventually there’s this whole population of kids we refer to as overcorrected, overdirected, and overpunished. Anyone who works with kids who are behaviorally challenging knows these kids: They’ve habituated to punishment.”
Under Greene’s philosophy, you’d no more punish a child for yelling out in class or jumping out of his seat repeatedly than you would if he bombed a spelling test. You’d talk with the kid to figure out the reasons for the outburst (was he worried he would forget what he wanted to say?), then brainstorm alternative strategies for the next time he felt that way. The goal is to get to the root of the problem, not to discipline a kid for the way his brain is wired.
“This approach really captures a couple of the main themes that are appearing in the literature with increasing frequency,” says Russell Skiba, a psychology professor and director of the Equity Project at Indiana University. He explains that focusing on problem solving instead of punishment is now seen as key to successful discipline.
If Greene’s approach is correct, then the educators who continue to argue over the appropriate balance of incentives and consequences may be debating the wrong thing entirely. After all, what good does it do to punish a child who literally hasn’t yet acquired the brain functions required to control his behavior?
Schools and juvenile detention centers are starting to pick up Greene’s methods and are experiencing complete behavior turnarounds:
In 2004, a psychologist from Long Creek Youth Development Center, a correctional center in South Portland, Maine, attended one of Greene’s workshops in Portland and got his bosses to let him try CPS. Rodney Bouffard, then superintendent at the facility, remembers that some guards resisted at first, complaining about “that G-D-hugs-and-kisses approach.” It wasn’t hard to see why: Instead of restraining and isolating a kid who, say, flipped over a desk, staffers were now expected to talk with him about his frustrations. The staff began to ignore curses dropped in a classroom and would speak to the kid later, in private, so as not to challenge him in front of his peers.
But remarkably, the relationships changed. Kids began to see the staff as their allies, and the staff no longer felt like their adversaries. The violent outbursts waned. There were fewer disciplinary write-ups and fewer injuries to kids or staff. And once they got out, the kids were far better at not getting locked up again: Long Creek’s one-year recidivism rate plummeted from 75 percent in 1999 to 33 percent in 2012. “The senior staff that resisted us the most,” Bouffard told me, “would come back to me and say, ‘I wish we had done this sooner. I don’t have the bruises, my muscles aren’t strained from wrestling, and I really feel I accomplished something.’”
PERSISTING WHITE SUPREMACY IN CA STATE PRISONS…AND DYLAN ROOF
In an essay for the Marshall Project, James Kilgore, who spent the majority of a six-and-a-half year prison term in California facilities, considers how Charleston church shooter Dylan Roof might be received at a CA prison where inmates have been racially segregated for decades.
Kilgore calls for national dialogue on white supremacy in prisons and urges lawmakers and corrections officials to put an end to their “complicity in reproducing hatred and division” through racially segregated detention facilities.
Here’s a clip:
He would certainly find instant camaraderie with the Peckerwoods, the Skinheads, the Dirty White Boys, the Nazi Low Riders. His admirers, men with handles like Bullet, Beast, Pitbull, and Ghost, would vow to live up to Roof’s example, either by wreaking havoc when they hit the streets or maybe even the very next day in the yard.
Roof’s newfound fan club would be ready to provide him with prison perks — extra Top Ramen, jars of coffee, a bar of Irish Spring. The guards, many with their own Roofish sympathies, would cut him some slack — an extra roll of toilet paper here, a few illicit minutes on the telephone there. If Roof were so inclined, the guards might turn a blind eye to his indulgence in illegal substances, from tobacco to papers of heroin to the carceral Mad Dog 20/20 known as “pruno.”
If Roof played by the convict code, he might quickly rise in the ranks of the white-power structure in the prison yard. Maybe after a few years, he would earn the status of “shot caller,” the highest rank within the racial groups. Then he could order hits on young white boys who defiled the race by playing a game of chess with a black man or offering a Latino a sip of his soda. Like all his white comrades, Roof would use the white showers, the white phones, the white pull-up bars. The yard might spark visions of a segregated utopia for Dylann, a wonderland where everyone was in their right place — separate and unequal.
But white supremacists in prison also live in a world of racial enemies. Fueled by paranoia and buttressed by complicit guards and administrators, Roof would be the target of personalized vengeance attacks. Just like on the streets, he would be constantly looking over his shoulder to fend off real and imagined enemies. In particular, he would realize that in a prison yard, there are plenty of black lifers who have nothing to lose and the muscle power to break him in half, like a dry stick. A warrior who took down Roof would get a hero’s welcome in the torturous isolation blocks at Pelican Bay or Corcoran. All this tension would no doubt make Roof a little uneasy, perhaps force him to remain “suited and booted,” armed with a razor blade in his mouth or a sharpened shank up his rectum.
But even with danger all around him, Roof might find solace in the fact that the prison authorities would not assign any whites and blacks to share a cell and would enable the segregation of day rooms and exercise spaces. This would be a refreshing change of pace for Roof.
WHY WAS POMONA TEEN ACCUSED OF ROBBERY FOUND BLUDGEONED TO DEATH IN HIS CELL, FAMILY ASKS
The parents of a 19-year-old robbery suspect, Rashad Davis, fatally beaten in his jail cell in May, want answers from the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department about why their son was assigned to a cell shared by a mentally unstable cellmate accused of beating a man to death with a baseball bat.
The SB Sheriff’s Dept. has not indicated whether or not Davis was housed with 22-year-old Jeremiah Ajani Bell due to a breakdown in screening protocol, but the department has recently been the subject of several scandals and investigations, including alleged excessive use of force and inadequate mental health treatment for inmates.
RENOWNED PLAYWRIGHT ANNA DEAVERE SMITH TURNS HER CREATIVE FOCUS ON RACE AND THE SCHOOL-TO-PRISON PIPELINE
Playwright/actress Anna Deavere Smith has never been one to be scared off by complex subject matter.
When Smith premiered Twilight: Los Angeles 1992, her searing and revelatory one woman play about the aftermath of the Rodney King verdicts—first performing it in Los Angeles in 1993, then a year later in New York—reviewers fell over themselves praising the work. At the same time, they also argued with each other about whether Smith’s creation was really theater, or some strange new kind of journalism.
The confusion had to do with the fact that Smith had gathered the material for the play that would make her a critical success by interviewing nearly 300 people, many of whom had some direct connection to the riot, some of whom did not. Then, from those interviews, she shaped monologues for more than 40 “characters,” real people whom she inhabited on stage, one after the other, with eerie accuracy.
The parts she played included former LAPD chief Daryl F. Gates, a south LA teenager, one of the members of the Rodney King jury, a Beverly Hills real estate agent, a former Black Panther party head now living in Paris, truck driver Reginald Denny, the widow of a Korean American grocer killed during the madness, a pregnant cashier hit by a random bullet who managed, against odds, to save herself and her baby—and several dozen more.
All of this came together to produce what NY Times’ theater reviewer David Richards called, “an epic accounting of neighborhoods in chaos, a city in anguish and a country deeply disturbed by the violent images, live and in color, coming over the nightly airwaves.”
Now, 22 years later, Smith is working on another play that makes use of her signature form of documentary theater to illuminate another crucial cultural moment. (Smith has authored around 18 of these documentary plays thus far.) The new play, which has the working title of “The Pipeline Project,” investigates what the playwright describes as “the school-to-prison pipeline—the cycle of suspension from school to incarceration that is prevalent among low-income Black, Brown, Latino, and Native-American youth.”
As she did with Twilight, for the last year or so, Smith has been interviewing hundreds of people including students, teachers, parents, police, thought and policy leaders, psychologists, community activists, heads of prisons, people who are incarcerated, kids in juvenile hall, public defenders…and many more, as she fashions her theatrical characters.
Smith said that she got the idea after educators and reformers approached her to see if art could affect policy change. And so: The Pipeline Project.
Most recently, she has been performing pieces of the work-in-progress at select regional theaters in Berkeley, CA, Baltimore, MD, and Philadelphia, PA. Then after each performance, Smith engages in an extended dialogue with the audience, sort of town hall meeting style, all of which she uses to continue to recalibrate her material.
Eventually Smith will have a full length theater piece, that she’ll debut around the country.
In the meantime, Californians will have the opportunity to see the work-in-progress version starting this coming Saturday, July 11, when Smith will begin previews at Berkeley Rep’s Roda Theatre. This pre-play play will run through August 2.
“This is one of those rare moments when people do begin to think about race relations in this country,” Anna Deavere Smith says over the phone from Berkeley Repertory Theatre, where she’s in rehearsal for the premiere run of her latest solo piece. The new work, with the complicated but accurate title “Notes From the Field: Doing Time in Education, the California Chapter” is about the treatment of African American and other disadvantaged youth in our schools and what’s increasingly being called the school-to-prison pipeline.
“I started thinking seriously about these matters in 2010, and I started my work, my interviews in 2013,” Smith says. “A lot has happened very quickly in this country during that time. … You can’t really think about inequities in education without looking at the broader canvas of racial inequity in America. And you can’t think about school discipline without thinking about the ways in which the types of discipline that are of greatest concern mimic some of the practices in prisons.
“So it’s a problem, and it’s an opportunity. I did my first staged readings of this piece here at the Rep last July and left town and — boom! Ferguson. And just since then, because of technology, Americans have watched any number of bad interactions between authority and young African American males, and these videos have taken the country by storm and have caused a lot of people to go, ‘Wait. What? Something’s going on here about men of color. What is this? Wow! Whoa! No! How could that happen?’”
Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education, the California Chapter: Previews begin Saturday, July 11. Opens July 14. Through Aug. 2. $25-$89. Berkeley Rep’s Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison St., Berkeley. (510) 647-2949. www.berkeleyrep.org.
AND IN OTHER NEWS….THE LA TIMES EDITORIAL BOARD LOOKS AT HISTORY & CALLS FOR REAL OVERSIGHT OF THE LOS ANGELES SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT
Let us hope the LA County Board of Supervisors are paying attention.
Here’s a clip:
Los Angeles County has a commission created more than a half century ago, that is tasked with monitoring jail conditions and holding government accountable for improper treatment of inmates. As reports circulated in recent years of inmate beatings and abuse at the hands of sheriff’s deputies, the Sybil Brand Commission for Institutional Inspections failed to find or act on the pattern of brutality that has resulted in the county paying millions of dollars in verdicts and settlements, the resignation last year of Sheriff Lee Baca the indictment this year of former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka (among others), the convictions of several deputies for obstruction of justice, and the ongoing criminal investigations into inmate mistreatment. It instead reported accomplishments such as commending the sheriff for his cooperation during jail inspections.
Following reports of numerous improper uses of force by deputies more than two decades ago, the Board of Supervisors hired special counsel Merrick Bobb, who regularly reported on problems in the jails and elsewhere in the department; but the board, distracted by other emergencies and concerns, took little action on Bobb’s recommendations. The board abolished his office just over a year ago.
In 2001, in response to concern that abusive deputies were not facing meaningful discipline, the county created an Office of Independent Review to provide civilian oversight of the discipline process. But in order to get access to confidential sheriff files, the office agreed that such documents would be privileged, and in so doing it became in essence the department’s attorney, and wound up providing in-house advice rather than actual oversight. That office, too, was abolished last year.
Those efforts illustrate the two primary avenues of failure in oversight of the sheriff’s department. The supposedly independent overseer either is absorbed into the sheriff’s world, as with the Office of Independent Review, or becomes an agent of the Board of Supervisors, ineffectual like the Sybil Brand Commission or else too easily ignored, given the board’s many duties and political pressures, like the Office of Special Counsel.
There is an urgent need for a new model that does not replicate those that so utterly failed during the jail abuse scandal. The oversight body must have sufficient independence from both the board and the sheriff, sufficient access to department documents to perform its task, sufficient standing to apply political pressure in cases when the sheriff refuses to cooperate, and sufficient professionalism and restraint to avoid becoming a runaway tribunal.
To design such a model, the Board of Supervisors appointed a panel to consider various possibilities and make recommendations. The Working Group on Civilian Oversight completed its report late last month. It falls woefully short.
LAPD’S MODEL MENTAL HEALTH UNIT IS THE NATION’S LARGEST
While, it doesn’t magically solve every single problem, with 61 sworn officers and 28 mental health workers, the Los Angeles Police Department’s mental evaluation unit is the largest mental health policing program of its kind in the nation and, by all accounts, it’s doing a lot of good, both in helping take the pressure off patrol officers while, most importantly, aiding in productive and appropriate resolutions, rather than harmful outcomes, for the city’s mentally ill.
According to LAPD spokespeople, the unit has become a vital resource for the city’s 10,000-person police force.
Officer Ted Simola and his colleagues in the unit work with county mental health workers to provide crisis intervention when people with mental illness come into contact with police.
On this day, Simola is working the triage desk on the sixth floor at LAPD headquarters. Triage duty involves helping cops on the scene evaluate and deal with people who may be experiencing a mental health crisis.
Today, he gets a call involving a 60-year-old man with paranoid schizophrenia. The call is typical of the more than 14,000 fielded by the unit’s triage desk last year.
“The call came out as a male with mental illness,” says the officer on the scene to Simola. “I guess he was inside of a bank. They said he was talking to himself. He urinated outside.”
If it were another department, this man might be put into the back of a police car and driven to jail, so that the patrol officer could get back to work more quickly. But LAPD policy requires all officers who respond to a call in which mental illness may be a factor to phone the triage desk for assistance in evaluating the person’s condition.
Officer Simola talks to the officer on the scene. “Paranoid? Disorganized? That type of thing?” The officer answers, “Yeah, he’s talking a lot about Steven Seagal, something about Jackie Chan.” Simola replies, “OK, does he know what kind of medication he’s supposed to have?” They continue talking.
The triage officers are first and foremost a resource for street cops. Part of their job entails deciding which calls warrant an in-person visit from the unit’s 18 cop-clinician teams. These teams, which operate as second responders to the scene, assisted patrol in more than 4,700 calls last year.
Sometimes their work involves high-profile interventions, like assisting SWAT teams with dangerous standoffs or talking a jumper off a ledge. But on most days it involves relieving patrol officers of time-consuming mental health calls like the one Simola is helping to assess.
The man involved in this call has three outstanding warrants for low-grade misdemeanors, including public drinking. Technically, any of them qualifies him for arrest. But Simola says today, he won’t be carted off to jail.
“He’ll have to appear on the warrants later,” Simola says, “but immediately he’ll get treated for his mental health.”
AMENDMENTS TO JUVIE SOLITARY BILL DON’T SWAY CRITICS
The bill’s author, Senator Mark Leno, has tried to address some of the concerns of the bill’s opponents, with a set of amendments, but so far they’ve not done the trick writes Kelly Davis for The Crime Report.
Here’s a clip:
In response to opposition from county probation unions and California’s influential prison guard union, Leno has agreed to several amendments since the legislation was first introduced in February. The most recent amendment allows a youth to be confined beyond four hours if he can’t be safely re-integrated into the general population.
But the amendments have not appeared to sway the critics.
At the committee hearing, Craig Brown, a lobbyist with the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, argued that the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), which runs California’s four juvenile correctional facilities, has implemented numerous reforms over the last several years, including significant reductions the use of confinement. In 2004, the DJJ, then called the California Youth Authority, entered into a consent decree with the Prison Law Office after documented cases of young people being kept in solitary confinement—sometimes in cages—for 23 hours a day.
Leno’s bill would add another layer of regulations and “mess up all that progress” Brown said.
There are currently no laws governing the use of juvenile solitary confinement in California.
The lack of regulations has played a role in at least four lawsuits-—the one filed against the Prison Law Office against the DJJ, and three subsequent lawsuits against county probation departments.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.