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Zero Tolerance and School Discipline


Holder & Duncan Shocked at Pre-School Discipline #’s….Child Abuse Deaths Up….Looking at Sheriff Candidate Bob Olmsted….and More

March 24th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



ERIC HOLDER & ARNE DUNCAN SHOCKED AT SUSPENSION OF PRESCHOOLERS

This past Friday the Civil Rights division of the US Department of Education released a report detailing the disturbing number of suspensions and other forms of discipline in American schools. The statistics on preschool suspensions, in particular, were so high that they succeeded in shocking the US Attorney General and the Secretary of Education.

The Center for Public Integrity’s Susan Ferris has the story. Here’s a clip:

Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan expressed shock at data released Thursday showing that thousands of preschool kids were suspended nationwide during the 2011-2012 school year. The suspensions fell heavily on black children, who represented 18 percent of preschool enrollment yet 48 percent of all suspensions.

“I was stunned—I was stunned—that we were suspending and expelling four-year-olds,” Duncan said at a Washington D.C. elementary school, where he and Holder discussed findings of the latest Civil Rights Data Collection by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. The survey showed that nearly 5,000 preschool students were suspended in the 2011-12 academic year.

“This preschool suspension issue is mind-boggling,” Duncan said. “And we need to as a nation find a way to remedy that tomorrow.”

Duncan said training is needed at schools that suspend large numbers of kids at all grade levels to demonstrate a “better way” of handling problem behavior. “We know there is a correlation between out-of-school suspensions and ultimately locking people up,” Duncan said. “And folks don’t like it when we talk about it. But for far too many children and communities the ‘school-to-prison pipeline’ is real.”

Here’s the report.


SAME DATA FINDS AFRICAN AMERICAN PRESCHOOLERS MUCH MORE LIKELY TO BE SUSPENDED

Jesse Holland of the Associated Press looks deeper into the racial disparities in school suspensions found in the recently-released Dept. of Education report, including suspensions in the nation’s preschools, where African American preschoolers account for a stunning 48 percent of suspensions.

Here’s a clip:

Advocates long have said get-tough suspension and arrest policies in schools have contributed to a “school-to-prison” pipeline that snags minority students, but much of the emphasis has been on middle school and high school policies. This was the first time the department reported data on preschool discipline.

Earlier this year, the Obama administration issued guidance encouraging schools to abandon what it described as overly zealous discipline policies that send students to court instead of the principal’s office. But even before the announcement, school districts have been adjusting policies that disproportionately affect minority students.

Overall, the data show that black students of all ages are suspended and expelled at a rate that’s three times higher than that of white children. Even as boys receive more than two-thirds of suspensions, black girls are suspended at higher rates than girls of any other race or most boys.


ALARMING SPIKES IN CHILD ABUSE & NEGLECT IN VARIOUS STATES

The Wall Street Journal reports about the frightening rise in child abuse deaths that is getting lawmakers to pay attention. Since the WSJ is hidden behind a pay wall, The Crime Report summarizes the story. Here’s a clip:

Seventy-eight children died in Florida last year as a result of abuse or neglect—36 of whom had prior involvement with the state Department of Children and Families, says the Wall Street Journal. The string of deaths triggered public outcry, plunged the state’s child-welfare system into crisis and led to the resignation of the agency’s secretary. Now, the Florida legislature has made overhauling the system one of its top priorities in the session that began this month. Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican seeking re-election this year, has called for nearly $40 million in additional funding. Other states and localities are embroiled in similar controversies. In Massachusetts, the September disappearance of a 5-year-old boy, who is feared dead, went unnoticed by the state’s child-welfare agency for three months, prompting the governor to order an independent review. In California, the brutal death of an 8-year-old boy allegedly abused by his caregivers led Los Angeles County supervisors to create a commission on child protection that is due to issue recommendations next month…..


KPCC’S FRANK STOLTZE PROFILES BOB OLMSTED

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has a new profile of retired LA County Sheriff’s Department commander Bob Olmsted. That makes three candidates that Stoltze has interviewed and profiled. (He’s also done stories on candidates Jim McDonnell and James Hellmold.)

The profiles aren’t long but they’re smart, featuring those who express pros and cons on each man.

You can find the podcast here, and here’s a clip from the written version of the Olmsted story:

Whistleblowing cops usually end up as pariahs. Bob Olmsted is no different.

“I’ve got a problem with a guy who runs to the FBI,” says retired Sheriff’s Lieutenant Craig Ditsch. “We have some very good people who have been indicted.”

A federal grand jury has indicted 20 current or former sheriff’s officials on civil rights and corruption charges – in part because of Olmsted. Most of the charges relate to excessive use of force against jail inmates, or efforts to cover it up.

Now, Olmsted is using his whistleblower past to distinguish himself among the seven candidates hoping to succeed former Sheriff Lee Baca as head of one of the nation’s largest law enforcement agencies.

Olmsted once oversaw Men’s Central Jail as a commander, and went to his superior seeking to remove a problem captain. When Olmsted didn’t get the help, he went higher.

“I told my chief, ‘I’m going over your head,’” Olmsted recounts. He sounds like a worried parent when he describes the corrosive effect of bad deputies.

“Who is protecting these young guys, the good guys?” he asks. “Nobody.”

In 2011, when Baca and his former undersheriff, Paul Tanaka (now a candidate for sheriff), refused to help, according to Olmsted, he went to the FBI. Olmsted had just retired from the department.

Last summer, before Baca abruptly resigned and a slew of other candidates jumped into the race, Olmsted announced his run for sheriff. It was a bold move by a political novice against a powerful incumbent.

“It was my duty to run,” Olmsted says.

[SNIP]

While many current and former deputies loathe the idea of a whistleblower becoming sheriff, retired Commander Joaquin Herran is a proud supporter of Olmsted.

“He had the guts to go do the right thing for the right reason,” Herran says. “Other people did not.”


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE TOPIC, HERE’S WHAT THE DAILY NEWS SAYS ABOUT THE LASD SHERIFF CANDIDATES AND THE RACE

The Daily News’ Christina Villacourte interviews experts about what the voters need to look for as they contemplate whom to choose as LA County’s new sheriff, and talks briefly to the candidate themselves.

Here’s a clip:

[Laurie] Levenson, the criminal law professor, said the new sheriff must meet stringent criteria.

“I think integrity is key,” she said. “It should be somebody who’s experienced in law enforcement, and who has the confidence of law enforcement personnel.”

“He should be a good manager, politically savvy, and with a great deal of courage to take on the different issues that confront the county — from homeland security to modern approaches toward law enforcement, even inmate rehabilitation and penal reform,” she added.

If a candidate were to win the majority of votes on June 3, the county Board of Supervisors could remove interim Sheriff John Scott, and appoint the sheriff-elect to lead the department immediately. If no candidate exceeds 50 percent, the top two would face a runoff election on Nov. 4 and the winner would be sworn in Dec. 1.

If voters choose poorly, the consequences can be costly — literally.

“County taxpayers paid about $40 million last year in settlements and jury verdicts for illegal behavior on the part of the Sheriff’s Department,” American Civil Liberties Union Legal Director Peter Eliasberg said.


Pre-art photo of preschool kids from PreschoolMatters.org

Posted in 2014 election, DCFS, Education, Foster Care, LASD, School to Prison Pipeline, Youth at Risk, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 34 Comments »

New LASD Inspector General Says Fire Existing LASD Watchdogs…. & Effort to Make LA Schools “Less Toxic” is Hit & Miss

March 19th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



LASD INSPECTOR MAX HUNTSMAN SAYS THAT IT’S TIME FOR THE OLD OVERSIGHT METHODS TO GO

In a Tuesday afternoon letter to the Board of Supervisors that startled many, Sheriff’s Department Inspector General Max Huntsman recommended to the LA County Board of Supervisors that contracts be terminated. with both longtime LASD watchdogs, Michael Gennaco’s Office of Independent Review and Special Counsel Merrick Bobb.

Huntsman was appreciative of the work of the OIR and of Merrick Bobb, but he didn’t pull any punches.

The Daily News’ Christina Villacorte has a good story on the letter and some of the reactions to it. Here’s a clip:

…“The Office of Independent Review has functioned primarily as a part of the Sheriff’s Department,” Huntsman said. “The office has had an attorney-client relationship with the sheriff, was housed within the department, and assumed an integral role in the disciplinary system.

“This model has created the perception that OIR is not sufficiently independent to act as a civilian monitor,” Huntsman added. “This perception is not entirely without basis.”

He said the OIR’s role as a “trusted adviser” to former Sheriff Lee Baca, who had recommended its creation, “limited its effectivess in reporting information to the public and the board.”

Gennaco disagreed.

“Some people have that perception but our reports are hard-hitting and factual, and we don’t pull any punches,” Gennaco said.

“Because of our work, a number of deputies have been made accountable who otherwise would still be working at the department,” he added, noting the OIR recommended 100 deputies for discipline, including termination, for various acts of misconduct just in the past year.

The LA Times Robert Faturechi also has some good angles on the matter. Here’s a clip:

Huntsman said he is not planning to work with sheriff’s officials on individual discipline cases the way Gennaco’s organization did. He said he would rather take a more systemic approach and stay out of individual cases so that he can report his opinion on those that are mishandled without a conflict of interest.

However, in his letter he mentioned the possibility of the Sheriff’s Department hiring some of Gennaco’s attorneys to fill that role in order to advise sheriff’s officials in determining appropriate discipline on a case-by-case basis. He said the organization’s attorneys have had a positive effect on encouraging thorough misconduct investigations and appropriate discipline.

Even as he recommended cutting his contract, Hunstman also complimented Bobb, saying he provided an “invaluable” outside perspective, including pushing for a database that tracks deputy discipline.


GETTING LA’S TRAUMATIZED STUDENTS THE HELP IN SCHOOL THEY NEED, IS ANYTHING BUT EASY

Journalist/advocate Jane Ellen Stevens, who runs the wonderfully informative website ACEsTooHigh, has become expert in the effect of trauma on kids an others.

Right now, she is working on an investigative series into “right doing—which looks at how some schools, mostly in California, are “moving from a punitive to a trauma-informed approach to school discipline.” The series, which is funded by the California Endowment, includes profiles of schools and programs in Le Grand, Fresno, Concord, Reedley, San Francisco, Vallejo, San Diego—and LA.

Here are some clips from Stevens’ most recent story, “Trying to make LA schools less toxic is hit-and-miss; relatively few students receive care they need.”

In it she describes the ways in which certain people inside the LAUSD really understand the problem of kids acting out because of trauma, but struggle to find resources to help.

For millions of troubled children across the country, schools have been toxic places. That’s not just because many schools don’t control bullying by students or teachers, but because they enforce arbitrary and discriminatory zero tolerance school discipline policies, such as suspensions for “willful defiance”. Many also ignore the kids who sit in the back of the room and don’t engage – the ones called “lazy” or “unmotivated” – and who are likely to drop out of school.

In the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), which banned suspensions for willful defiance last May, the CBITS program (pronounced SEE-bits), aims to find and help troubled students before their reactions to their own trauma trigger a punitive response from their school environment, including a teacher or principal.

[SNIP]

Every semester, Lauren Maher, a psychiatric social worker, gives all the children in Harmony’s fifth grade a brightly colored flyer to take home. It asks the parent to give permission for her or his child to fill out a questionnaire about events the child may have experienced in, or away from, school. “Has anyone close to you died?” “Have you yourself been slapped, punched, or hit by someone?” “Have you had trouble concentrating (for example, losing track of a story on television, forgetting what you read, not paying attention in class)?” are three of the 45 questions.

Garcia’s son was one of a small group of students whose answers on the questionnaire, as well as his grades and behavior, were showing signs that he was suffering trauma. He joined one of the two groups, each with eight students that met once a week for 10 weeks at the school. In the group, the students don’t talk about the event or events that triggered the trauma. Instead they talk about their common reactions to trauma, and learn strategies to calm their minds and bodies.

Each student also meets twice individually with Maher; so do the child’s parent or parents. For some parents, it’s the first time they hear about the traumatic event – such as bullying or witnessing violence in the neighborhood – or what their child says about a traumatic event. So, if a child throws a fit because he doesn’t want to go to the grocery store, says Maher, it’s not because he’s being a bad kid. It’s because he remembers how during his last trip to the grocery store, his mother threw her body over his when gunfire broke out and wouldn’t let him move until the police came to help them, and now he’s afraid to return.

In the case of Garcia’s son, he was having problems at school because he was witnessing his stepfather beating her up. The first time Garcia talked with Maher, Garcia wondered what she had gotten herself into. “I didn’t know if she would call the department of social services on me or not,” she says, tears streaming down her face.

“After I had a talk with her, I realized it wasn’t a bad choice,” she says. “At first, it hurts to open up, because you don’t want anybody to know about your situation. I was a victim of domestic violence and never opened my mouth. We’re taught that what happens at home stays at home. I was reassured that I wasn’t the only one going through this.”

[SNIP]

CBITS had its beginnings in 1999, when clinician-researchers from RAND Corporation and the University of California at Los Angeles teamed up with LAUSD School Mental Health to develop a tool to systematically screen for their exposure to traumatic events. The screening tool – a questionnaire – was first used with immigrant students, says Escudero. When it became evident that students were witnessing violence in their neighborhoods and domestic violence and other abuse in their homes, social workers began making it available for all students. This experience led the team to develop CBITS. Since 2003, CBITS has been disseminated through the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, and is used in hundreds of schools in the U.S. and other countries. It has a new site – traumaawareschools.org – that is focused on helping schools implement CBITS and teacher training.

“I was one of the originators of CBITS,” says Pia Escudero, director of the LAUSD School Mental Health, Crisis Counseling & Intervention Services. “When we started, folks did not want to talk about family violence. Our gateway was to talk about community violence.”

Read on!

Posted in Inspector General, jail, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, OIR, School to Prison Pipeline, Trauma, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 5 Comments »

Fixing the “Truancy Crisis,” NYC Art Program Diverts Teen Taggers, Exonerated After 30 Years on Death Row…and More

March 12th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

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KEEPING CALIFORNIA KIDS IN SCHOOL AND ON TRACK

On Monday, California Attorney General Kamala Harris, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, and state lawmakers proposed a group of bills targeting elementary school truancy, which they describe as having reached crisis-level.

Harris’ office put together a report on the issue of “chronic” absence and truancy across California. The report found, for instance, that an alarming one out of five elementary school kids were reported as truant during the 2011-12 school year. Here’s a clip from the executive summary:

…In the 2012-2013 school year, approximately one million elementary school children in California were truant and almost 83,000 were chronically truant (missing 10% or more of the school year – calculated from the date of enrollment to the current date – due to unexcused absences).

The same sample reveals that hundreds of thousands of students in California are chronically absent from school. Over 250,000 elementary school students missed more than 10% of the school year (over 18 school days); and a shocking 20,000 elementary school children missed 36 days or more of school in a single school year.

Given these disturbing statistics, Attorney General Kamala D. Harris commissioned a study to examine the scope, causes and effects of truancy and absenteeism in California. The study also focused on what law enforcement, parents, educators, non-profits, public agencies and concerned community members can and must do about this problem. The findings are stark. We are failing our children.

Truancy, especially among elementary school students, has long-term negative effects. Students who miss school at an early age are more likely to struggle academically and, in later years, to drop out entirely. One study found that for low-income elementary students who have already missed five days of school, each additional school day missed decreased the student’s chance of graduating by 7%. Lacking an education, these children are more likely to end up unemployed and at risk of becoming involved in crime, both as victims and as offenders.

The five bills proposed by Harris and lawmakers address some of the report’s recommendations, with an overall goal of keeping kids in class without turning to harsh school discipline. Several of the bills focus on attendance data-gathering by the AG’s office, the Department of Education, and county School Attendance Review Boards (which would be made mandatory by one of the five proposed bills).

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Melody Gutierrez has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

Harris said California needs to better collect student attendance data and put it to use instead of waiting for that person to be deemed a menace to society and pouring billions into the criminal justice system.

[SNIP]

“We need to try to get ahold of our young people early and make sure they end up in the classroom and not the courtroom,” said Assemblyman Chris Holden, D-Pasadena, who authored one of the bills.

“With this slate of bills, we are not putting more students in the juvenile justice system, but inviting communities to intervene before they end up in the penal system.”

Harris’ report was the first statewide assessment of the truancy crisis, specifically examining elementary schools in each county and relaying the financial impact.


NEW YORK CITY NON PROFIT PARTNERS WITH PROBATION DEPT. TO GIVE YOUNG TAGGERS FORMAL ART LESSONS

In partnership with NYC Dept. of Probation, a nonprofit, “Paint Straight,” takes kids arrested for tagging and redirects them with formal painting lessons and mentorship. At the end of the 8-week program, parents, friends, and probation officers attend Paint Straight’s art show where the kids’ paintings are sold through a silent auction.

We at WLA think this is a much better way to address the issue of young people tagging, than former city attorney Carmen Trutanich’s push for gang injunctions against taggers back in 2009.

The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange’s Laura Bult has the story. Here’s how it opens:

Elijah Henriques, 15, always loved to draw. He began drawing on paper, then on his schoolbooks and eventually he started making graffiti. After a neighbor witnessed Henriques tagging mailboxes in his Ozone Park, Queens, neighborhood, police officers pulled him off a city bus and arrested him and his friends.

Two months later on a Saturday afternoon, his graffiti was exhibited at the Nuyorican Poet’s Café in the East Village in Manhattan. His artwork was part of a show organized by the “Paint Straight” program, a nonprofit that’s designed to encourage teenagers who have been arrested for vandalism to express their art in safe and legal ways.

“It helps you understand that doing it illegally is a waste of time. That you can do it on canvas, too,” Henriques said at the “All-City Paint Straight Program Finale.”

Eighteen other young artists who had been arrested for graffiti displayed their work alongside Henriques. Colorful 18-by-21 canvases rested on easels throughout the small dark bar. A DJ spun hip-hop records as probation officers and family and friends of the artists streamed in to view and bid on the art in a silent auction.

Ralph Perez, 49, founded “Paint Straight” five years ago in collaboration with the New York City Department of Probation for teens who have been arrested for nonviolent crimes. The program lasts eight weeks and is often a requirement of probation or offered as an alternative to community service.

“Paint Straight” participants meet once a week at their respective borough’s family court facilities and receive art education and mentorship. Perez said that, out of the 111 kids whom he has helped in the last year, only four have been re-arrested for vandalism…

(Read the rest.)


LOUISIANA MAN EXONERATED AND FREED AFTER A STAGGERING 30 YEARS ON DEATH ROW

Glenn Ford, a man who spent 30 years on death row in Louisiana for a murder he didn’t commit, was exonerated and released Tuesday afternoon. Through a massive miscarriage of justice—by police, prosecutors, judges, “experts,” and the defense attorneys—Ford was convicted by an all-white jury in 1984. His release makes him one of the longest-serving death row exonerees, to date.

The Atlantic’s Andrew Cohen has the story. Here’s a clip:

Isadore Rozeman, an elderly white man with cataracts, a man fearful of crime in his neighborhood, was murdered in his small jewelry and watch repair shop in Shreveport on November 5, 1983. Ford had done yard work for Rozeman and several witnesses placed him near the scene of the crime on the day of the murder. When he learned that the police were looking for him he went to the police station where, for days, for months, he cooperated with the investigation.

Ford told the police, for example, that a man he identified as “O.B.” had given him jewelry hoping that he, Ford, could pawn it. The police would later discover that this jewelry was similar to merchandise taken from Rozeman’s store. Ford identified one possible suspect in Rozeman’s murder, a man named Jake Robinson, and later suggested that “O.B.” was Robinson’s brother, Henry, who also may also have been up to no good.

With all signs pointing to the Robinsons, and with police under the impression that the one or both of the brothers still possessed the murder weapon, Ford was not immediately charged with Rozeman’s murder. He and the two Robinsons were instead charged three months later—only after Jake Robinson’s girlfriend, Marvella Brown, incriminated them by telling the police that Ford was with the Robinsons, and in the possession of a firearm, on the day of Rozeman’s murder.

Louisiana also relied on “experts” to build its case. The first, the parish coroner who had not personally examined Rozeman’s body, testified about the time of death and the fact that the shooter was left-handed. The second expert found a few particles unique to or characteristic of gunshot residue on Ford’s hands. The third, a police officer not certified as a fingerprint expert, concluded that a “whorl” pattern on Ford’s fingers was consistent with a single partial fingerprint lifted from a bag the police believed was used in the murder.

There was no murder weapon found. There were no eyewitnesses to the crime. There were legitimate reasons why Ford would have been around Rozeman’s store. The primary witness against Ford was a person, Brown, whose credibility and reliability were immediately challenged. Expert opinions were not definitive. The police had reason to believe that one of the Robinsons had killed Rozeman. And most of all Ford had not acted suspiciously in any way.

Ford’s murder trial was constitutionally flawed in almost every way. The two attorneys he was assigned were utterly unprepared for the job. The lead attorney was an oil and gas attorney who have never tried a case—criminal or civil—to a jury. The second attorney, two years out of law school, was working at an insurance defense firm on slip-and-fall cases. Both attorneys were selected from an alphabetical listing of lawyers at the local bar association.

During jury selection, prosecutors used their peremptory strikes to keep blacks off the jury. The reasons they gave for precluding these men and women from sitting in judgment of Ford were insulting and absurd. And leading up to and during the trial Louisiana did not share with the defense all evidence favorable to it as they were required to do under the United States Supreme Court’s constitutional command in Brady v. Maryland.

The prosecution’s case was based largely on the testimony of Brown, the girlfriend. Under cross-examination, however, she told jurors that the police had helped her make up the story she had told about Ford. When Ford’s attorneys later called her to the witness stand, she told jurors that a bullet left from an old gunshot wound to her head had affected her thinking. “I did lie to the Court… I lied about it all,” she said in court (remember, it was Brown’s story that led to Ford’s arrest).

After Brown’s credibility imploded on the stand, prosecutors turned to their “experts.” It was a case that cried out for rebuttal experts to make simple and obvious points. A coroner who did not examine the body could not accurately determine time of death or whether the shooter was left-handed. That sort of thing. But no experts testified for the defense. Why? Because Ford’s lawyers believed, mistakenly, that they would have to pay for the costs of these experts…


LA TIMES SEZ SUPE. MOLINA IS -MOSTLY- RIGHT TO BE FRUSTRATED BY COUNTY COUNSEL DENYING ACCESS TO LASD INTERNAL INVESTIGATION DOCS

Last week, LA County Supervisor Gloria Molina insisted county counsel should grant the board access to LASD internal investigation documents on questionable use of force incidents that wind up triggering lawsuits against the county. For instance, Molina wanted access to documents on one investigation in particular, regarding a deputy’s seventh shooting (after which he was placed back on patrol). Molina said, without being able to look at the files, the board could not hold the sheriff’s department accountable to the county, which last year had to pay $89 million in judgments and settlements. (We pointed to the story—here.)

An LA Times’ editorial says Molina is right to be frustrated by the county counsel’s withholding, but there’s more to it. Here are two clips:

She is correct that the county counsel prevents too much information from coming to people who need it to do their jobs. That’s in part because he must obey canons of legal ethics requiring him to protect the interests of his client — which is not simply the Board of Supervisors.

Like all municipal lawyers, the county counsel’s position is curious. His client is the county, a governmental entity consisting of elected officials such as the sheriff and the district attorney as well as the Board of Supervisors; thousands of workers; and in the case of Los Angeles County, 10 million constituents. With so many people who claim to be the client, and with so many competing legal interests to balance, the county’s lawyer can take on enormous power. He sometimes seems to be on both sides of the attorney-client privilege, directing the supervisors’ actions instead of taking directions.

The Times then points to the Supervisors’ own tendency towards secrecy in these cases:

But the supervisors have rarely hesitated to make that awkward relationship work in their favor. They frequently withhold information from the public or meet behind closed doors, then seek to excuse their actions by hiding behind legal advice that they are perfectly free to reject. The county counsel is their tool at least as often as he is their obstacle.

When it comes to obtaining confidential reports on the actions of sheriff’s deputies, members of the Board of Supervisors may have their hands tied by the Peace Officers’ Bill of Rights, a state law that, in the name of privacy, keeps far too much information about deputies’ use of force out of the hands not just of the supervisors but of the public. If the supervisors wanted to, they could put their not inconsiderable clout behind a legislative measure to modify that law.


REMINDER: SHERIFF CANDIDATE DEBATE

The first debate among Los Angeles County Sheriff candidates (save for Assistant Sheriff Jim Hellmold) is scheduled for tonight (Wednesday) at 7:00 pm, at the Van Nuys Civic Center (6262 Van Nuys Blvd.).

Posted in Death Penalty, Education, Innocence, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, School to Prison Pipeline, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

LA Supe Molina Asks for LASD Internal Investigation Files…Breaking Out of Men’s Central Jail Cells…One Problem with “My Brother’s Keeper”…and More

March 5th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LA SUPERVISOR MOLINA REQUESTS LASD FILES ON USE OF FORCE INSTANCES

Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina is calling on County Counsel to give the board access to LASD internal investigation files regarding use of force and officer-involved shootings.

Molina says, without access, the board cannot provide thorough oversight, or know whether it is valid to settle with claimants in use of force cases against the LASD. Molina introduced a motion that would request immediate access to LASD reports on a 2013 shooting involving an officer who had been involved in six other shootings. Board members will likely vote on it at next week’s meeting.

Here’s a clip from Supe. Molina’s website:

“Our county lawyers don’t seem to understand whom they’re representing here,” Molina said. “It appears we have Sheriff’s Deputies involved in violating policy over and over again, often the same ones. Management allows this to happen. And yet when I ask for a copy of basic investigations into these cases, County Counsel has denied me access time and again. I have explained myself continuously as to my duty and responsibility. I have outlined that I am asking for nothing but our own materials.”

Under Government Code Section 25303, the Board of Supervisors is required to oversee the conduct of all county officers to ensure that they “faithfully perform their duties.” Moreover, in Dibb v County of San Diego (1994), the California Supreme Court ruled that a county Board of Supervisors has the legal obligation to monitor the conduct of Sheriff’s employees as long as it does not interfere with the investigation and prosecution of criminal conduct.

“I have reminded our legal counsel that this is not the District Attorney’s investigation and the District Attorney is not their client – we are,” Molina continued. “I’m willing to view this report with a bank of lawyers surrounding me and yet I’m still continually denied access to it. The Sheriff’s Department has investigated the incident and claimed to have taken appropriate corrective action. But we don’t know if that is true. I am told that the Board of Supervisors must pay for these claims, that we have no choice. Yet our lawyers constantly refuse to fight for our access to the reports that would help us get to the root causes of our problems. I have no interest in interfering with D.A. investigations – only ensuring the fundamental integrity of the investigations. But I have significant questions about officer-involved shootings and whether or not our use-of-force policies are being followed not just in our county jail system but in the field, where residents live and work. In the absence of a fully operational Office of Inspector General or a legally constituted Civilian Oversight Committee with subpoena power, it falls to the Board of Supervisors to directly exercise its duty and authority on behalf of the public.”


EASY CELL BREAKOUTS AT MEN’S CENTRAL JAIL

ABC7 spoke with inmates and jail officials, including CJ captain Dan Dyer, who said it’s not all that hard to escape from a cell, even a high security one, in the outdated Los Angeles Men’s Central Jail.

Dyer says inmates usually break out of their cells and handcuffs to attack other inmates (less often deputies and custody assistants).

Here’s a clip from the ABC7 report:

“For my staff, every time they walk one of these rows, they’re in danger,” said Men’s Central Jail Captain Dan Dyer.

One inmate, whom we agreed not to identify, is housed in a high-security area known as “2904.” He told Eyewitness News he’s accused of murder and selling drugs and guns. The inmate was locked up behind a cell door constructed from heavy steel mesh and iron bars. Despite the tight security, the inmate told us he could break out of his cell at any time.

“Yeah, like most doors when you unlock them, some doors are racked and if you know how to do it right, you can push your gate in and it will open right up, you know? And whether you catch an active or non-active gang member, your enemies, you could attack them while they’re walking to the showers and handcuffed with deputies,” said the inmate.

Escapes from the jail facility itself are rare, but inmates breaking out of their cells is another matter.

“There’s probably not a housing location in my building that they can’t get out of,” said Capt. Dyer. “We’ve watched them. We’ve had them show us how they do it. Simply the design of some of these cells makes it very easy. These guys that have been in and out of here over the years. It’s an art to it and they know how to do it.”

The inmate in 2904 says he learned how to break out of his cell from his “homies” and years of cycling into and out of the criminal justice system.

“When you’re facing life already, you have nothing to lose,” he said.

Dyer said a small number of inmates may want to attack a deputy or custody assistant, but most are looking to assault a fellow inmate.

“What’s commonly called a ‘green-lighter,’” said Dyer. “Somebody who’s a drop-out from a gang on the street or somebody who has committed an act inside the jails in violation of gang codes. Those are the individuals they’re after.”


“MY BROTHER’S KEEPER” …WHAT ABOUT YOUNG GIRLS AND WOMEN OF COLOR?

Last week, President Barack Obama launched an important initiative to help boys and young men of color break free of the school-to-prison-pipeline and build successful lives.

The Nation’s Dani McClain says—that’s great, but minority girls need just as much help. Here are some clips:

If streets corners, classrooms, workplaces and court systems are inhospitable to and dangerous for black and Latino boys and men, how do they affect the girls and women who are often right by their sides? After all, boys and men don’t exist in a vacuum.

In fact, black and Latina girls and women also struggle to succeed in school, avoid the criminal justice system, and find and keep good jobs. Nearly 40% of black and Latina girls fail to graduate high school on time. Black girls experience sexual violence at rates higher than their white and Latina counterparts, and intimate-partner homicide is the leading cause of death among black women between the ages of 15 and 35. This is perhaps not the kind of violence Obama’s initiative is drawing attention to, but it’s violence just the same.

[SNIP]

In the past thirty years, women have entered US prisons at nearly double the rate of men, with the female population behind bars growing by more than 800 percent, according to the Center for American Progress (CAP). Racial disparities exist for the female prisoner population, too. Black women are three times more likely than white women to be incarcerated and Latina women are nearly 70 percent more likely.

The president’s initiative promises to create economic opportunities for boys and young men, and girls and young women could use a hand in this arena as well. A study of black unemployment found that black teenage boys and girls experienced similar rates of joblessness during 2011—a low of 35 percent for black girls and 39 percent for black boys and a high of 48 percent for both. The same UC Berkeley Labor Center study found that between 2009 and 2011, the unemployment rate declined slightly for black men but joblessness actually increased for black women. Unemployment rates fell for both white men and white women during this time.


LAPD MAKES HAPPY BIRTHDAY / GET WELL VIDEO FOR YOUNG BOY WITH LEUKEMIA

The LAPD put together a very sweet video for Tyler Seddon, a young boy celebrating his seventh birthday while fighting leukemia for a second time. Tyler’s mother set up a Facebook account asking her son’s heroes, first responders, to send him birthday cards.

Posted in Charlie Beck, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAPD, LASD, Obama, racial justice, School to Prison Pipeline, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 6 Comments »

Fighting Zero-Tolerance in a North Carolina County…Why States Turn to Private Prisons…Foster Kids’ Need for Consistent Education…and Disney Cuts $$ to Boy Scouts Citing Anti-Gay Policy

March 3rd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

“MISSION CRITICAL” DOCUMENTARY FOLLOWS KIDS BEING PUSHED THROUGH THE SCHOOL-TO-PRISON-PIPELINE

In the nationwide push to end the school to prison pipeline, many school districts are turning away from harmful zero-tolerance discipline practices (LAUSD included). Last week, President Obama launched an important initiative to keep kids of color in school and out of the justice system, but there is still much work to be done.

A new documentary produced by Advocates for Children’s Services (a project of Legal Aid of North Carolina) looks at the battle raging in Wake County, North Carolina, where 10% of kids were suspended during the 2011-12 year.

The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange has more on the documentary (which can be watched in its entirety in the above video). Here’s a clip:

The lawyers and staff of the organization bought a $200 camera and over 18 months shot raw interviews of parents and students who’ve been affected by the pipeline. After piecing it together, “Mission Critical: Ending the School-to-Prison Pipeline in Wake County” was released last week at a community screening.

“We really wanted to humanize and personalize what really is a civil rights crisis in our community,” said Jason Langberg, supervising attorney at the Advocates for Children’s Services and one of the film’s directors.

Wake County Public Schools has one the biggest school-to-prison pipelines in the nation, Langberg said. During the 2011-2012 school year, the district gave out 14,223 short-term suspensions and 403 long-term suspensions. The figure amounts to one suspension given for every 10 students, according to a report by Advocates for Children’s Services.


PRIVATE PRISONS: EXTRA SPACE FOR STATES WITH OVERCROWDING PROBLEMS, BUT IS IT WORTH IT?

For-profit prison companies like the Corrections Corporation of America claim to save states money, but often have less than desirable track records, and employ lock-up quotas. (WLA previously pointed to CCA’s run-in with contempt of court in Idaho.)

Politico’s Matt Stroud takes a closer look at why states, including California, (and even the feds) enter into contract with private prisons. Here’s a clip:

In October, when California Governor Jerry Brown signed a new contract with Corrections Corporation of America, a Nashville-based private prison behemoth, onlookers might’ve wondered if he’d been following the news.

The same could be asked of Wall Street in general. Over the last five years, CCA’s stock price has increased by more than 200 percent and earlier this month Jim Cramer’s investment website The Street praised the company’s “strengths” on Wall Street, enthusiastically rating its stock a “buy.”

As inmate populations have soared over the last 30 years, private prisons have emerged as an appealing solution to cash-starved states. Privately run prisons are cheaper and can be set up much faster than those run by the government. Nearly a tenth of all U.S. prisoners are housed in private prisons, as are almost two-thirds of immigrants in detention centers—and the companies that run them have cashed in. CCA, the oldest and largest modern private prison company, took over its first facility in 1983. Now it’s a Wall Street darling with a market cap of nearly $3.8 billion. Similarly, GEO Group, the second largest private-prison operator, last week reported $1.52 billion in revenue for 2013, its most ever and more than a hundredfold increase since the company went public ten years ago.

But while privatizing prisons may appear at first glance like yet another example of how the free market beats the public sector, one need only look at CCA’s record in Idaho to wonder whether outsourcing this particular government function is such a good idea.

[BIG SNIP]

Yet companies such as CCA continue to get contracts—and Congress has been one of the industry’s benefactors. A 2009 change to the Department of Homeland Security’s federal spending bill requires officials to keep 34,000 people in federal immigration detention centers operated by private prison companies. The federal Bureau of Prisons, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Marshalls Service all contract with private prison companies.

Again: Why?

Leonard Gilroy was happy to offer an explanation.

Gilroy is director of government reform at the libertarian Reason Foundation, which advocates for market-based solutions to government problems and has also received financial support from both CCA and the GEO Group. He explains the lure of private prisons as a simple matter of cost and convenience: “It costs a lot of money to open a prison,” he says. “And to have it fully ready, you need a full contingent of staff, you need to set that staff up with health care, arrange for maintenance workers, provide food and utilities. And that’s a big order, particularly if you’re in a rush.” Private prisons can fill that rush order, he says.

A rush is exactly what Jerry Brown has faced in California

(Read on.)

Steve Owen, the senior director of public affairs for CCA wrote a lengthy reply to Stroud’s Politico story. Owen says that Stroud only focused on the company’s problem areas, or “challenges,” and says there are many positive things CCA is doing for states and inmates. Here’s a clip:

The opinion writer opens his piece with ill-informed commentary about CCA’s relationship with California. In fact, there is perhaps no better example of the important role we can play in addressing corrections challenges. The difficulties the state has faced with overcrowded facilities are well documented, and for more than seven years, CCA has provided an important relief valve to help them manage their inmate population. Our facilities and professional staff have alleviated unsafe conditions and created opportunities for offenders to access a wide range of programs that prepare them to re-enter their communities once their time is served. The most recent iteration of our partnership is an innovative agreement that allows California to lease needed space from our company and staff the facility with public employees.

Additionally, the tools we are providing to help manage this difficult situation are being delivered at a significant cost savings. Overall, economists from Temple University, in an independent study receiving a partial grant from our industry, analyzed state government data and found companies like ours save 12 percent to 58 percent in long-term taxpayer costs.

The opinion piece moves on from California to cherry-pick stories of incidents that portray our company and industry through a lens that is not only incomplete but also often factually inaccurate and disingenuous. It is an unfortunate reality that no corrections system—public or private—is immune to challenges. That doesn’t mean we aren’t working each and every day to address concerns head on and learn from our mistakes, as we have recently in Idaho…

And here’s what Owen has to say about those pesky lock-up quotas:

I also want to address the issue of minimum-occupancy guarantees. Fewer than half of our contracts have them, and those that do contain explicit provisions allowing our government partners to terminate the agreement in a short period of time if the capacity is no longer needed. The idea that somehow our partners are locked into space they aren’t using is grounded more in politics than in fact…


FOSTER KIDS WHO REPEATEDLY CHANGE HOUSES AND SCHOOLS LOSE MONTHS OF EDUCATION, LESS LIKELY TO GRADUATE

The Atlantic’s Jessica Lahey has a worthwhile story about how frequent uprooting and instability in a foster kid’s life create significant gaps in learning and reduce their likelihood of graduating high school. Here are some clips (but do go read the rest):

When 12-year-old Jimmy Wayne’s parents dropped him off at a motel and drove away, he became the newest member of the North Carolina Foster Care system. Over the next two years in the foster care system, he attended 12 different schools.

“I don’t even remember what I learned—no, let me rephrase that—I don’t remember what they tried to teach me—after fifth grade,” he told me recently. “It wasn’t until I had a stable home and was taken in by a loving family in tenth grade that I was able to hear anything, to learn anything. Before that, I wasn’t thinking about science, I was thinking about what I was going to eat that day or where I could get clothes. When I was finally in one place for a while, going to the same school, everything changed. Even my handwriting improved. I could focus. I was finally able to learn.”

[SNIP]

Students in foster care move schools at least once or twice a year, and by the time they age out of the system, over one third will have experienced five or more school moves. Children are estimated to lose four to six months of academic progress per move, which puts most foster care children years behind their peers. Falling behind isn’t the only problem with frequent school moves: School transfers also decrease the chances a foster care student will ever graduate from high school.

[SNIP]

Kate Burdick, an attorney and Equal Justice Works Fellow with the Juvenile Law Center, shared the changes she’d make that would greatly improve the chances that children in foster care get the educational stability they need:

Schools must ensure school stability for children in foster care by requiring schools to be flexible around residency requirements in order to allow children to remain in the same school or district, and provide the supports to make that stability happen, such as reliable transportation and dedicated adult liaisons who can provide academic support.

Promote greater collaboration between child welfare agencies and schools in order to ensure that foster children’s particular educational needs are being met.

Collect tracking data on educational progress and outcomes, including attendance, school moves, enrollment delays and academic outcomes in order to reveal where policies and practices could be improved.

(For recent stories on the state of foster care in Los Angeles County, go here and here.)


DISNEY TO STOP GIVING MONEY TO BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA OVER ANTI-GAY POLICY

The Walt Disney Company is cutting funding to the Boy Scouts of America starting in 2015 because of its policy banning gay scout leaders.

The AP has the story. Here’s a small clip:

The Boy Scouts organization is “disappointed” by the decision, which will affect the organization’s ability to serve children, Deron Smith, a Boy Scouts spokesman, said in a statement Sunday. Disney does not provide direct funding to the Boy Scouts, but it donates money to some troops in exchange for volunteer hours completed by Disney employees, he said.

[BIG SNIP]

The memo was posted on the website of Scouts for Equality, an organization that is critical of the Boy Scouts’ policy to ban adult gay troop leaders.

Last week corporate giants like Delta, Marriott, American Airlines, and Apple threatened to move outside of Arizona if Gov. Jan Brewer did not veto legislation that would have let businesses refuse service to LGBT customers based on religious beliefs. (Bloomberg’s Thomas Black and Jennifer Oldham have that story.)

It’s heartening to see these two instances of corporate America standing up for LGBT equality.

Posted in CDCR, Education, Foster Care, juvenile justice, LGBT, Obama, prison, School to Prison Pipeline, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

Restorative Justice Transforms Colorado High School, Recommended Longreads, $6.4M for a Wrongful Murder Conviction…and More

February 21st, 2014 by Taylor Walker

REPLACING HARSH SCHOOL DISCIPLINE WITH CONFLICT RESOLUTION

Once consumed by chronic suspensions and expulsions, Hinkley High School in Aurora, Colorado has seen significant success using a “restorative justice” student discipline model. (We’ve pointed to other schools successfully swapping zero-tolerance policies for practices that foster positive behavior changes and keep kids in class—here, and here.)

The above PBS NewsHour video and transcript can be found here.


LIFE AS AN LAPD TRAINEE, AND A SQUAD BUILT TO FOSTER GOOD POLICE-COMMUNITY RELATIONSHIPS IN THE JORDAN DOWNS PROJECTS

This week the LA Times featured two longform stories we didn’t want you to miss. Both are a testament to the value of narrative journalism’s ability to communicate the things standard reporting cannot.

For several years, Joel Rubin and photographer Brian van der Brug followed a class of LAPD recruits, from their first day in the academy, through graduation, and beyond.

Here’s how it opens (read the rest and watch the video by van der Brug):

Before they hit the streets as new cops, the recruits took a final run together.

It was a fitting end, given all the miles they had logged over the last six months. In a few days, they would graduate from the Los Angeles Police Department’s training academy and scatter to stations throughout the city for their rookie years.

On this misty morning in November 2010, they sang like soldiers do as they jogged from a training facility near LAX to the beach. “Everywhere we go, people want to know who we are. So we tell them, ‘We are the LAPD! Best department in the world!’”

In the front was Clay Bell, a young ex-Marine from Texas who had emerged early as the class leader. In the pack behind him, Ed Anderson sang the loudest. At 46, Anderson was the oldest in the class and the most unlikely cop among them. Vanessa Lopez lagged in the back. Lopez hated running. Barely cracking 5 feet, she had come to the LAPD after the Army told her she was too short to be a helicopter pilot. The LAPD had helicopters.

“Up early with the California sun. Pride run! Last run! Oh, yeah! Almost done!”

They arrived at a bluff overlooking the Pacific and scrambled down to the beach. They stared out onto the water, each of them lost for a moment in their own thoughts. The quiet was broken when a few charged into the water. Others who held back were tossed in. Anderson walked up to Lopez. Still dry, she crossed her arms and shook her head.

They had come to the academy from different worlds — she was a Mexican American from Compton, Anderson a father of two from a wealthy Bay Area town.

They had forged a tight bond over the one thing they had in common: They wanted to be LAPD cops.

“It feels like we’re just getting started,” Anderson said. “Like the hard part is only about to begin.”

In the other LAT longread, Kurt Streeter follows an experimental LAPD squad created to build positive relationships with the community of Jordan Downs, a 700-unit public housing project in Watts. Here’s how it opens:

Officers Keith Linton and Otis Swift stopped their patrol car, rolled down a window and motioned to a hoodie-wearing teenager. In this part of South L.A., such encounters can be tense — or worse.

“Hey, Linton. Hey, Swift,” the teen said. “How y’all doing?”

“Doing good, my man,” Linton replied, launching into a conversation about basketball.

Similar scenes played out all afternoon as the cops worked their beat in Jordan Downs, a housing project in Watts with a violent reputation and a history of ill will between residents and police.

Part of an experimental LAPD squad trying to bring a softer style of policing to the area, Linton and Swift didn’t make arrests or issue tickets. Instead they greeted every resident they could — even giving respectful nods to the gang members hanging out in an area known as the “parolee lot.”

“We haven’t had anyone cussing us out and no one has flipped us the middle finger,” Swift said. “Around here, that’s progress. Not long ago we’d pop in, make an arrest…. We were the invading army.

“We’ve found out that way doesn’t work.”

Jordan Downs, once predominantly African American, is now mostly Latino. More than half its adult residents are unemployed, only two in 100 have college degrees and the average family earns about $1,250 a month. It is home turf for the Grape Street Crips, whose reputation largely defines the development’s identity and whose blood-soaked feuds with rival gangs created the feel of a war zone.

But Los Angeles officials are pinning their hopes on a transformation. They have launched a nearly $1-billion plan to tear down all 700 units and replace them with up to 1,800 mixed-income apartments and a shopping center. The hurdles are significant. The plan leans partly on federal funds that may not materialize. And a parcel of land slated for construction needs cleanup after the discovery of lead and arsenic in the soil.

Anticipating that a makeover eventually will occur, the city’s housing authority is attempting to change the culture of Jordan Downs. The idea is to fill the new buildings with residents who have a fresh outlook and brighter prospects. The authority has poured at least $6 million into programs like job training classes, gang intervention and support groups for parents.

It also wants to do what would have been unthinkable just a few years ago: heal the community’s relationship with police…

(Read on.)


MAN EXONERATED AFTER 23 YEARS IN PRISON GETS COMPENSATED $6.4M

A New York man who spent 23 years in prison on a wrongful murder conviction will receive a $6.4 million settlement from New York City.

Former detective Louis Scarcella allegedly manufactured David Ranta’s confession and coerced witnesses to lie about Ranta’s involvement in the murder. And Ranta may not be the only victim. Brooklyn DA Kenneth P. Thompson has created a panel to review more than 50 of Scarcella’s suspiciously obtained convictions. (Go here for WLA’s previous post on the issue.)

The NY Times’ Frances Robles has the story. Here’s how it opens:

A $150 million claim filed last year by the man, David Ranta, was settled by the city comptroller’s office without ever involving the city’s legal department — which the lawyers involved in the negotiations described as a “groundbreaking” decision that acknowledged the overwhelming evidence the city faced.

The comptroller’s quick acceptance of liability in the high-profile conviction is also significant because the case is the first of what is expected to be a series of wrongful conviction claims by men who were sent to prison based on the flawed investigative work of the detective, Louis Scarcella, who has been accused of inventing confessions, coercing witnesses and recycling informers.

“While no amount of money could ever compensate David for the 23 years that were taken away from him, this settlement allows him the stability to continue to put his life back together,” Mr. Ranta’s lawyer, Pierre Sussman, said. “We are now focusing our efforts on pursuing an unjust conviction claim with the State of New York.”


CREATING AN EFFECTIVE LASD COMMISSION

In part three of his editorial series this week, LA Times’ Robert Greene says the Board of Supervisors should consider the structure of the LA Police Commission and the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority when (and if) they create independent oversight of the embattled sheriff’s department.

The format cannot be exactly the same as either. Nor would it be as powerful: the sheriff (unlike the police chief) is an elected leader, and answers to the public. But, Greene says, bits and pieces can, and should, be taken from both the LAPD commission and MTA oversight models to build an influential LASD commission that is more than just an extension of the Board of Supervisors.

Here are some clips:

The city commission actually heads the LAPD and has an essential role in the mayor’s selection of a chief. It conducts weekly sessions which the police chief skips at his peril, and the chief or his staff must answer commissioners’ questions, usually in public although sometimes in closed session.

The commission has its own staff, including an inspector general who is independent from the chain of command. The commission is in some sense the eyes and ears of the mayor, who appoints the members as well as the chief. But because it holds its sessions regularly and mostly in public, and because the chief must appear, present documents, and answer questions as demanded, the commission is also the eyes and ears of the public.

And because the chief knows that in reporting to the mayor, the commissioners have a loud voice in determining whether the chief gets appointed to a second term, the body’s oversight of the Police Department is genuine.

No sheriff’s oversight commission could have any such voice in a second, third or any term for an independently elected sheriff, at least not under current law, and it could only request, not demand, that the sheriff appear and produce documents. How, then, could it exercise genuine oversight?

[SNIP]

On its own, the Board of Supervisors can push forward with reforms, as it did with some recommendations offered over the last two decades in 33 substantive reports on the Sheriff’s Department by Special Counsel Merrick Bobb; or it can ignore them, as it did with many others. The task is to make the commission more than just the eyes and ears of the board; like the Police Commission, it must be the eyes and ears of the public.

Because it lacks the Police Commission’s formal power, it must be adept at using moral suasion and focusing public attention; and to do that it must have the credibility of a body that transcends the Board of Supervisors and is not merely the board’s proxies.

(Read the rest of Greene’s suggestions here.)

Posted in Innocence, journalism, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAPD, LASD, Restorative Justice, Uncategorized, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 1 Comment »

Juvenile Justice Roundup: California Suspension & Expulsion Rates Fall, San Francisco School Nixes Zero-Tolerance, Help for Trafficked Girls at an Alameda County Courthouse…and More

January 30th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

SUSPENSION AND EXPULSION RATES DROP IN CALIFORNIA

In California, suspensions were down 14% and expulsions dropped 12% in 2013. While this is welcome news, the numbers are still inordinately high at 609,471 and 8,562, respectively.

The LA Times Teresa Watanabe has more on the data. Here’s a clip:

The number of suspensions dropped by 14.1% to 609,471 last year from 709,596 over the previous year. Expulsions declined by 12.3% to 8,562 from 9,758 over the same period, said state Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.

Suspensions declined among nearly all ethnic groups, including reductions of about 10% for African Americans, Latinos and whites. But, continuing a pattern that has prompted national concern, African Americans were still disproportionately suspended, with a rate of 16.2% last year although they make up 6.3% of the statewide student population.

The data represent the state’s first year-to-year comparison of disciplinary actions taken against students including their racial and ethnic backgrounds.

“Although fewer students are being removed from the classroom in every demographic across the state, the rates remain troubling and show that educators and school communities have a long road ahead,” Torlakson said in a statement.

(Read on for more, including data on how LA Unified is fairing with its push for alternative discipline strategies.)


WHILE WE’RE ON THE TOPIC: A FOCUS ON A SAN FRANCISCO SCHOOL’S DISCIPLINE TRANSFORMATION

In her blog, ACEs Too High, journalist/child advocate, Jane Stevens tells of how one San Francisco elementary school, in particular, has dropped its overall suspension rate a whopping 89% by implementing trauma-informed practices. Here are some clips:

For one young student – let’s call him Martin — the 2012-2013 school year at El Dorado Elementary in the Visitacion Valley neighborhood of San Francisco was a tough one, recalls Joyce Dorado, director of UCSF HEARTS — Healthy Environments and Response to Trauma in Schools.

“He was hurting himself in the classroom, kicking the teacher, just blowing out of class many times a week.” There was good reason. The five-year-old was exposed to chronic violence and suffered traumatic losses. His explosions were normal reactions to events that overwhelmed him.

This year, Martin’s doing better. That’s because he spent months working with a HEARTS therapist, and that therapist worked with his teachers and other school staff to create a more safe and supportive learning environment. Still, on days when he feels extremely anxious, Martin sometimes asks to visit the school’s Wellness Center, a small, bright room stocked with comforting places to sit, headphones to listen to music, and soft and squishy toys.

“If a student starts to lose it, the teacher can give the kid a pass to go to the Wellness Center,” says Dorado. “The kid signs in, circles emotions on a ‘feelings’ chart (to help the person who staffs the center understand how to help the child). The staff member starts a timer. The kid gets five to 10 minutes. The kid can sit on the couch with a blanket, listen to music, squeeze rubber balls to relieve tension and anger, or talk to the staff member. Kids who use the room calm down so that they can go back to class…

[SNIP]

In 2008-2009, the year before HEARTS was introduced at El Dorado, there were 674 referrals – students sent to the principal’s office for fighting, yelling, or some other inappropriate behavior.

During the last school year – 2012-2013, there was a 74% drop, to only 175. This year, only 50 referrals have occurred.

There were 80 suspensions in 2008-2009. And although suspensions increased for four years to 150 in 2011-2012, last year they dropped 89%, to only 17. So far this year, only three students have been suspended.

As El Dorado Elementary School Principal Silvia Cordero thought when she first heard about trauma-informed practices: “Why don’t all schools have this?”

[SNIP]

It’s a public health issue, explains Dorado, because the toxic stress caused by chronic trauma can harm children’s brains. Toxic stress alters the brain’s structure and functioning, so that a child is hyper-vigilant. With their trigger reset on “red alert”, they can flip into “fight, fight, or freeze” mode even when they aren’t in real danger. As a result, they can have trouble concentrating, learning, or sitting still. They can erupt into rages, lash out at others or hurt themselves. Or they can withdraw in fear and not participate in anything that’s going on around them. None of this behavior is intentional, says Dorado.

Many teachers and principals think kids’ “bad” behavior is deliberate, and that the kids can control it. But it’s often not and they can’t – not without help, says Dorado. Their behaviors are a normal response to stresses they’re not equipped to deal with. Throwing a punch makes sense if they’re jumping in to defend their mother from an alcoholic raging father; screaming in fury is a normal reaction to a bully who continuously harasses them. But when the raised voice of a teacher or a counselor who’s criticizing them inadvertently triggers the same response, these behaviors look “abnormal, rude, or inappropriate,” says Dorado. “So, they’re getting kicked out of class and disengage from school. That puts our kids at incredible risk for later problems, including imprisonment.”


AN ALAMEDA COUNTY COURT’S COMPREHENSIVE APPROACH TO HELPING EXPLOITED GIRLS

In Alameda County, an innovative court for at-risk girls—primarily aimed at helping young girls forced into prostitution—has collaborated with social services to provide teens with crucial resources and personal guidance to help them out of crisis situations.

The NY Times’ Patricia Leigh Brown has more on the Alameda County Girls Court’s specialized approach. Here’s a clip:

Girls Court brings an all-hands-on-deck approach to the lives of vulnerable girls, linking them to social service agencies, providing informal Saturday sessions on everything from body image to legal jargon, and offering a team of adults in whom they can develop trust. And while still in its early years, the system is showing promise.

Founded two and a half years ago and carved out of the existing juvenile court, the Girls Court is for young women considered most at risk, especially those forced into prostitution. It is part of a network of a half-dozen or so Girls Courts around the country, each with a different emphasis. The results have been encouraging: The court in Hawaii, a program where both parents and girls attend counseling for a year, has led to a marked decrease in detentions, according to a 2011 evaluation. The Orange County Girls court, which was started in 2009, intervenes in the lives of teenage girls in long-term foster care, with preliminary studies suggesting better grades and fewer placements.

“It’s a unique alignment between adversaries,” Laurel Bellows, a Chicago lawyer and co-chairwoman of the American Bar Association’s anti-trafficking task force, said of the court’s collaborative approach. “These are not easy victims to deal with.”


MISSING FROM THE STATE OF THE UNION: DRUG POLICY AND MASS INCARCERATION

On Monday, we pointed to an op-ed by Juliet Sorensen (daughter of Ted Sorensen, JFK’s speechwriter and advisor), urging Obama to address drug-sentencing reform in his State of the Union speech. Drug policy was nowhere to be seen in Tuesday’s speech, but that wasn’t the only elephant missing from the room.

The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf lists several other relevant topics that didn’t make the cut—like the mass-incarceration epidemic.

Here’s a small clip:

Drug reform is the one that disappointed me most. The legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington is hugely significant, given the number of Americans who are locked in cages under prohibition, the disproportionate impact on minority families, and the tension between anti-prohibitionist states and federal law enforcement. Obama told the New Yorker’s editor that state legalization experiments should go forward. But drug policy was missing from his speech.

Posted in Child sexual abuse, juvenile justice, Obama, Restorative Justice, Sentencing, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

Goodnight Pete Seeger….We’ll See You in Our Dreams….& Other News

January 29th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

WITH LOVE & GRATITUDE TO PETE SEEGER, AMERICA’S JOY-FILLED AND FEROCIOUS MUSICAL CONSCIENCE: 1919 -2014

Whether singing his own compositions or American roots songs with provenances long ago lost such as The Worried Man Blues

…or the rescued and reworked gospel that, in his hands, became so indelible, We Shall Overcome, or the songs of others, like Woody Guthrie’s haunting national anthem for the ordinary American, This Land is Your Land, Pete Seeger embodied a pain-informed but miraculously unsullied optimism about his fellow humans that burned the most brightly when he was on stage.

In later years, his banjo was inscribed with the words: This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender.

And he meant it.

When he couldn’t sing anymore, he got everyone else to sing it for and with him. And we did, because Seeger’s music felt like it was always there—-in the wind, in the land, in our blood….

Good night, dear Pete, we’ll see you in our dreams.


RACE & SCHOOL DISCIPLINE: 4 WAYS TO START ADDRESSING THE PROBLEM

Rolling Stone Magazine has an worthwhile story by Molly Knefel about the persistent problem of racial inequities or, in some cases, just straight up racism, that plague our school discipline systems nationally. Cheeringly, the story doesn’t just describe the problem, it looks at four strategies taken from a new federal report aimed at fixing the problem as well.

Here’s a clip:

When Marlyn Tillman’s family moved from Maryland to Georgia, her oldest son was in middle school. Throughout his eighth grade year, he was told by his school’s administration that his clothing was inappropriate. Even a simple North Carolina t-shirt was targeted – because it was blue, they said, it was flagged as “gang-related.”

Things got worse when Tillman’s son got to high school, where he was in a small minority of black students. While he was in all honors and AP classes, he received frequent disciplinary referrals for his style of dress throughout ninth grade and tenth grade. Frustrated, his mother asked for a list of clothing that was considered gang-related. “They told me they didn’t have a list, they just know it when they see it,” Tillman tells Rolling Stone. “I said, I know it when I see it, too. It’s called racism.”

One day, Tillman’s son went to school wearing a t-shirt that he had designed using letters his mother had bought at the fabric store – spelling out the name of his hometown, his birthday and his nickname. He was again accused of gang involvement and and told that his belongings would be searched. “He’d just been to a camp where they gave out pocket-sized copies of the Constitution,” Tillman recalls. “My son whips out that copy and tells them that they’re violating his rights.”

The administrators accused the teen of disrespect. He was suspended and pulled out of his AP classes. That’s when Tillman – convinced that her son had been targeted because of his race – went to Georgia’s American Civil Liberties Union.

[SNIP]

…Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Education released a set of documents detailing how school discipline policies across the country may be violating the civil rights of American elementary and secondary school students.

[SNIP]

So what can we do to make our schools fairer? The federal guidance recommends a number of best practices to ensure that schools recognize, reduce and eliminate disproportionate treatment of students of color and students with disabilities, while fostering a safe and supportive educational environment…..

Read on for the solutions.


JUDGE NASH TO LEAVE THE BENCH???? UM…THIS DOESN’T WORK FOR US

The Metropolitan News reported this week that Judge Michael Nash will leave his position as presiding judge of the juvenile court by next January or (ulp) sooner. Among other acts of bravery and sane thinking, Nash, if you remember, in 2011 opened the LA County Dependency Court to reporters….and some desperately needed outside scrutiny.

Here’s a short clip from the Met News story:

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Nash, the presiding judge of the Juvenile Court for more than 16 years, said Friday he will not seek re-election.

Nash, who previously told the MetNews he was undecided whether to file for a new six-year term, said that after nearly 29 years on the court, it was time to search out “whatever other opportunities may come my way.” He said he had no specific plan, but that “life has just always worked out” for him.

Today is the first day that judicial candidates can file declarations of intent to run in the June primary. Deputy District Attorney Dayan Mathai Thursday became the first candidate to take out papers to run for Nash’s seat.

Nash said he had made no decision on whether to retire, or to serve out his term, which expires in January of next year. “It was enough of a hump to get to this point,” he said…

Okay, sure, we understand that Judge Nash has to do what’s right for his life, but still…


.

Posted in American artists, American voices, children and adolescents, Courts, DCFS, Foster Care, Life in general, race, racial justice, School to Prison Pipeline, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

Seventeen States Projected to Lower Prison Pop. and Save Billions…San Francisco Draws the Line on Police Involvement in Schools…and LAPD-Learned Lessons for Reforming the LASD

January 28th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

COST-CUTTING, PRISON POPULATION-REDUCING STRATEGY SEES SUCCESS ACROSS 17 STATES

A study released on Monday by the Urban Institute analyzes a cost-effective, evidence-based strategy that some states are using to reduce their prison population. These 17 states are employing a tactic, known as “justice reinvestment.” This relatively new strategy involves cutting prison costs, and using a percentage of the dollars saved to “reinvest” in alternatives, such as community-based treatment, reentry programs, and problem-solving courts. The states participating in the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI), have received a total of $17 million in program funding from the government and Pew Charitable Trusts. Since employing the JRI strategy, the states have reinvested approximately $166 million into incarceration alternatives, and could see a long-term return of $4.6 billion, according to the study.

California, Texas, and Florida—the states with the largest prison populations—are not a part of this federal “justice reinvestment” program.

The Crime Report’s Ted Gest says that with the recently approved allocation of more government money for the program (in the new budget), more states could join in:

Last month, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics found that prison populations nationwide declined for the third consecutive year in 2012, but the number went down by less than 30,000: 1,599,000 to 1,570,400. The jail population rose in 2012, and the U.S. total of offenders behind bars remains well over 2 million, prompting other efforts to deal with “mass incarceration.”

The federally supported justice reinvestment program does not include the federal prison system itself or the three states with the highest prison populations: California, Texas, and Florida.

Texas has operated its own version of justice reinvestment, saying in 2007 that it averted $684 million in projected prison building.

Federal support for justice reinvestment in the states has been modest so far–only $6 million annually–but the Obama administration proposed a big increase for the current federal spending year, and in its recently approved appropriations bill, Congress allocated $28 million for it.

In an NY Times editorial, Bill Keller discusses five strategies for reforming the criminal justice system and bringing down the prison population across the nation. Here are the first two:

SENTENCING: America has long been more inclined than other developed countries to treat crime as a disposal problem; “trail ’em, nail ’em and jail ’em,” is our tough-on-crime slogan. Beginning in the ‘70’s, rising crime rates, compounded by the crack epidemic and the public fear it aroused, set off a binge of punitive sentencing laws. Three-strikes, mandatory minimum sentences and requirements that felons serve a minimum portion (often 85 percent) of their sentence lengthened the time offenders — especially drug offenders, and especially black men — spent in lockup. Restoring common sense to sentencing is the obvious first step in downsizing prisons. New York rolled back its notorious Rockefeller drug laws, California has softened its three-strikes law and several other states have tinkered with rigid sentencing laws. But there is stiff resistance from prosecutors, who use the threat of long sentences to compel cooperation or plea deals. Reformers concede that those draconian laws have had a modest effect on the crime rate, but because of them we are paying to imprison criminals long past the time they present any danger to society. “Keeping a 60-year-old in prison until he’s 65 does close to zero for crime rates,” said Jeremy Travis, president of John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “If we’re really seeing something deep going on here, the proof will be whether legislators have the political will to roll back sentencing.”

SUPERVISION: For every inmate in our state and federal prisons, another two people are under the supervision of probation or parole. Caseworkers are often poorly paid and usually overwhelmed. About all they can do is keep count of an offender’s violations until the system decides to kick that offender back to prison. A few jurisdictions have tried to make parole and probation less of a revolving door back to prison, with some encouraging results. They focus attention on offenders considered most likely to commit crimes. They send caseworkers out of the office and into the community. They use technology (ankle bracelets with GPS, A.T.M.-style check-in stations, Breathalyzer ignition locks to keep drinkers from driving) to enhance supervision. They employ a disciplinary approach called “swift and certain,” which responds promptly with a punishment for missing an interview or failing a drug test. The punishments start small, then escalate until the offender gets the message and changes his behavior — preferably before he has to be sent back to prison. Mark Kleiman, a U.C.L.A. public policy professor who is a champion of the technique, says, “It’s basically applying the principles of parenting to probation.”


SAN FRANCISCO PIONEERS MOVEMENT AWAY FROM ZERO-TOLERANCE SCHOOL DISCIPLINE

San Francisco has set an important precedent for schools across the nation by officially limiting the role of officers on campuses. An agreement between the school district and the SFPD—drafted, in part, by Coleman Advocates and Public Counsel, with input from students, themselves—creates a new system of steps to be followed before a student can be arrested. The agreement also requires school officers to take at least one day of free training in more effective “restorative justice” methods of handling disruptive kids.

Susan Ferriss, of the Center for Public Integrity, has done some excellent reporting on this new agreement (and other related school discipline stories here, and here). We recommend reading Ferriss’ entire piece, but here are some clips:

Karn Saetang, an organizer with Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth in San Francisco, said: “We’re putting the responsibility for student behavior back where it belongs, with educators, students and parents, not with police. When police get involved in school discipline, it sends all the wrong messages to students.”

Coleman Advocates, which pushes the city to fund children’s services, helped draft the agreement, along with Public Counsel, the nation’s largest public interest law firm, which has been involved in reforming discipline policies in various cities.

[SNIP]

…San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr told ABC News 7 earlier this month that kids helped draft the agreement: “I think it’s important that we demonstrate to the kids that what’s important to them is important to us, too,” he said.

The agreement spells out requirements for graduated steps before a student can be arrested, and details limits on how arrests are to be carried out on campuses, so they are not disruptive or public, if possible, and are not conducted in connection with behavior allegedly committed outside school unless students are in danger.

Police have discretion but “shall make every effort” not to arrest and refer students to probation authorities until a student commits a third offense after prior admonishments and counseling for low-level infractions. These infractions could include minor school fights that have sometimes been criminalized as battery, battery against a school employee, resisting arrest, disturbing the peace and possession of marijuana for personal use.

The agreement also requires that officers refrain from questioning detained students for at least an hour or until parents have “sufficient time to travel” to a campus from their jobs or home.

“I think this clause is very important — that students are questioned in the presence of their parents,” said Sandra Lee Fewer, president of the board of education.

Fewer also insisted that the agreement contain the word “shall” as part of a requirement that school resource officers who are based at schools receive at least one day of free training, sponsored by the district, in methods of ‘restorative’ justice. That’s a regime of in-school discipline the district has adopted in an effort to get students to own up to disruption and problems they’ve caused — and, in turn, receive help to address the roots of their poor behavior.


OP-ED: LESSONS TO BE FOUND IN LAPD’S HISTORY FOR LASTING LASD REFORM

In an op-ed for the LA Times, Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the UC Irvine School of Law, and Miriam Krinsky, a policy consultant for the California Endowment (who also served as the executive director of the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence), suggest that important lessons can be gleaned from the LAPD’s history of serious misconduct and subsequent federally-enforced reform when fixing the Sheriff’s Department.

In particular, Krinsky and Chemerinsky call for civilian oversight, and for an outside (non-LASD) leader to take over the department. Here are some clips:

For decades, the LAPD was plagued by a culture that tolerated, and at times encouraged, civil rights violations. Every time there was a major incident of misconduct, department and city leaders said the misconduct was the result of just a “few bad apples.” A study would be done and there would be proposals for reform. Some would be adopted; most would be ignored. The problem would be deemed solved until the next incident precipitated the same pattern of responses.

This cycle ended with the Rampart scandal in 2000, which exposed officers in an anti-gang unit who planted evidence on innocent people and lied in court to gain convictions. In the wake of these revelations, the Justice Department informed city officials that it was contemplating suing Los Angeles for a pattern and practice of civil rights violations. The city entered into a consent decree that mandated many changes overseen by a monitor and a federal judge. Mayor James Hahn appointed a police chief from outside the department, William J. Bratton. Real reforms occurred and the LAPD today is a vastly different department.

Important lessons can be drawn from this experience. First, civilian oversight is essential. A police or sheriff’s department is in many ways a paramilitary organization. Civilian engagement and a transparent vehicle for accountability is critical…

[SNIP]

It is also important to bring in leadership from outside the sheriff’s office. The Christopher Commission, and every major study of the LAPD, found that the central problem was the culture of the department. Studies of the sheriff’s office have said the same thing. It is difficult for a person who is a product of that culture and environment to be the one to change it. It is not coincidental that the major changes in the LAPD occurred only after a strong leader from outside the department was appointed as its chief.

(Do go read the rest of this worthwhile op-ed.)

Posted in juvenile justice, LAPD, LASD, prison, Reentry, Restorative Justice, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 17 Comments »

Governor’s Budget Proposal Banks on a Postponed Overcrowding Deadline…New Federal Guidelines on School Discipline…Must Read LASD Editorials

January 9th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

GOV. BROWN’S NEW BUDGET PROPOSAL AIMS TO REDUCE PRISON OVERCROWDING

Counting on a two-year reprieve on a looming deadline from federal judges to reduce the prison population by about 9,000 inmates, Gov. Jerry Brown’s new budget proposal designates more than $23M for substance abuse treatment and mentally ill parolees, $40M for re-entry programs, $62M for prison guard training, and another $500M for new prison facilities. Brown also calls for, among other reforms, split sentencing and expanded parole eligibility for the elderly, mentally ill, and those with serious medical issues. (Go here and here for previous WLA posts on this issue.)

The Sacramento Bee has the story on their Capitol Alert blog. Here are some clips:

The imperative to depopulate prisons led Brown to ask the Legislature last year for $315 million to spend on housing inmates.

But California will spend only $228 million of that in the current fiscal year, the new budget blueprint predicts. The reason for not needing to spend it all?

“The Administration has assumed the court will grant a two-year extension to meet the cap,” the budget document states.

If true, that would buy Brown a substantial amount of breathing room as he seeks to mollify federal judges. If not, the budget proposal states, California will need to spend the full $315 million.

[SNIP]

Brown’s proposal would spend $11.8 million on substance abuse treatment and $11.3 million on mentally ill parolees while directing $40 million from the state’s Recidivism Reduction Fund to re-entry programs.

That’s not to say Brown is done pouring money into incarceration capacity. Despite spending $1.7 billion in jail construction, the administration argues there remains a significant need to house offenders. To that end, Brown proposes another $500 million for more facilities with a 10 percent county match requirement.

The LA Times’ Paige St. John, who has been following the Gov. Brown prison-overcrowding saga from the start, also reported on the new proposal. Here’s a clip:

Under the new program, prisoners over 60 years old who have served at least 25 years would be eligible to be considered for parole. So, too, would inmates who suffer severe medical conditions or who are mentally impaired.

Brown’s budget says inmates serving doubled sentences under the state’s Three Strikes law, but whose second offense was not violent, will now be able to shave off a third of their time. Previously, they were limited by law to a 20% reduction.

Brown uses his spending plan to also announce support for split sentences, requiring judges to reduce local jail terms for felons but adding time for community probation. Judges would be able to sentence a felon to jail alone only if they identified a reason. Brown’s budget document says the change will help offenders get access to community services while helping jails reduce crowding.


NATIONAL STANDARDS ISSUED ON SCHOOL DISCIPLINE POLICIES

On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Education released meaningful new federal guidelines addressing zero-tolerance school discipline. The guideline package includes resources for training school police and staff on constructive alternatives to kicking kids out of school.

The Center for Public Integrity’s Susan Ferriss (who has done some excellent reporting on harsh school discipline, here and here) has more on the new guidelines. Here are some clips:

The ideas are a response to mounting concerns that overly punitive discipline is pushing too many low-income and minority students out of schools and toward failure rather than helping them engage academically. The Department of Education and the Department of Justice teamed up in a two-year effort to develop lists of resources and principles that educators have found effective at keeping campuses orderly without resorting to kicking out kids.

The package is intended to help schools chart new practices. Federal officials also emphasize that educators are obliged not to violate students’ civil rights when punishing them. The package also provides resources for school police training and employee training in discipline techniques considered more productive than ejecting kids.

[SNIP]

The U.S. departments of Education and Justice both have civil rights offices that have stepped up investigations into complaints of disparate and harsh disciplinary practices affecting special-education students and ethnic-minority children. Complaints have included excessive suspensions of black children compared to white children accused of the same cell phone use violations.

“Everyone understands that school leaders need to have effective policies in place to make their campuses safe havens where learning can actually flourish,” said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in an announcement Wednesday. “Yet most exclusionary and disciplinary actions are for non-violent student behaviors, many of which once meant a phone call home.”

In his own statement, U.S Attorney General Eric Holder said: “A routine school disciplinary infraction should land a student in the principal’s office, not in a police precinct.”


THE SCHOOL-TO-PRISON PIPELINE AND THE ABSENCE OF REHABILITATION AND EDUCATION FOR LOCKED-UP KIDS

Al Jazeera America has a worthwhile piece by Molly Knefel about the damage done by still-prevalent policies of dumping kids into the juvenile or criminal justice system for minor offenses and what activists are trying to do to change these counter-productive systems. Here are some clips:

When Marvin Bing Jr. was 12 years old, he was living in a foster home in central Pennsylvania.

One day he decided to take a kitchen knife to school in his book bag. He didn’t have any intention to use it, but he thought it would seem cool to classmates. When the teacher noticed kids gathered around Bing’s desk, oohing and ahhing, he was sent to the principal’s office.

But that was just the beginning. Bing was arrested, taken away in a police car and sent to a juvenile holding facility to await a court date. “It was lockup,” he said. “I had a cell. It was all blue. I had a little bed and a steel locked door. The whole thing, at 12 years old.”

In a single moment, something that happened in school changed Bing’s life, yanking him into the justice system — all before even becoming a teenager. But he is far from alone.

On any given day in the United States, about 70,000 children are held in residential juvenile centers like the one Bing was sent to, and at least two thirds of them are charged with nonviolent offenses. Another 10,000 are detained in adult prisons and jails. Each year, as many as 250,000 youths under 18 are tried, sentenced or incarcerated as adults.

In both the juvenile and adult systems, some critics say, young people are at a high risk of physical and sexual abuse, educational disruption and psychological trauma as they deal with institutions that might be unsuited to dealing with their problems and are focused more on punishment than on rehabilitation. “The more you treat people as criminals at younger and younger ages, the more damage you’re likely to do to their psyche,” said Niaz Kasravi, director of the criminal-justice program at the NAACP.

[SNIP]

Once a child is arrested, access to education may be limited or nonexistent, depending on the detention center. Wendy Greene, director of North Carolina Prison and Legal Services’ incarcerated-youth advocacy project, represents young people and is familiar with confinement conditions in the state. One of her clients — whom she declined to name — is a special-education student awaiting a court date in a North Carolina county jail. Though he has not been convicted of a crime, he has been there for months.

According to Greene, law-enforcement officials have refused to allow the local public school to send in a teacher to work one on one with the child, claiming there’s no space for such an arrangement. As a result, he has been receiving assignment packets from school but no instruction. She says his work comes back with scores of zero. Regardless of whether he is found guilty, she pointed out, his experience with detention has significantly set back his education.


EDITORIAL ROUND-UP: SHERIFF BACA’S RESIGNATION AND THE DEPARTMENT’S FUTURE

The LA Times and the LA Daily News each had two particularly good editorials regarding the unexpected resignation of current LA County Sheriff Lee Baca. (The backstory can be found here and here, if you missed it.)

In the first LAT editorial, Robert Greene says that the current sheriff election process and methods of oversight are “untenable” and need to be revamped. Here’s a clip:

…In this county, sheriffs simply don’t get bounced from office by voters. We have 10 million people, more than any other county in the nation, more than 42 states. Of those, close to half live in cities with their own police departments, so those voters don’t really have much reason to care who gets elected sheriff or whether the incumbent is doing a good job. Getting the attention of those voters is nearly impossible. Actual political and democratic oversight of the Los Angeles County sheriff has crumbled while the form — the veneer — of democracy persists.

Baca is the only Los Angeles County sheriff in modern times to get the job by defeating the incumbent, and he managed that in large part because the incumbent was dead (Sherman Block died in the final days of his 1998 campaign for reelection). Other than that instance, voters in this county haven’t removed a sheriff in living memory. The last time an L.A. County sheriff was ousted was in 1921 — and that wasn’t by the voters but by the spork, the Board of Supervisors. History records that the sheriff resigned.

Baca’s resignation follows at least the first part of the more common practice for sheriffs. For the pattern to be complete, he would have to name his own successor and the Board of Supervisors would have to rubber-stamp it, leaving voters with an incumbent to return to office.

Perhaps the sheriff should be elected but subject to removal by the board; or appointed by the board but subject to periodic approval by the voters, as with Superior Court judges; or appointed by the board but with carefully designed oversight. Like an inspector general. And a commission. Any of those moves would require a statewide vote.

And here’s a clip from what the Times’ editorial board had to say about Baca’s exit (also well worth a full read-through):

Even the most honorable deputies in a department struggling with a corrupted culture need to know that the old ways will not be tolerated. They must see persistent attention to the department’s problems, not the intermittent public focus that comes with elections or verdicts, or the occasional critique or initiative offered by the Board of Supervisors. Deputies must know they are working under a sheriff with the highest integrity, subject to a workable system of oversight.

Baca’s departure will allow for a more sweeping revamp of the department. But county leaders and the public should not view a change at the top, by itself, as sufficient. Baca was a problem, but he was not the only problem. He may not have been up to the task of balancing politics and law enforcement, and he may have been too flawed or tired or incompetent to imbue his entire force of deputies with his stated vision, but for any Los Angeles County sheriff to do better in a strange job that combines elected politics with jail management, mental health care, inmate rehabilitation and law enforcement, there must be a system of oversight that doesn’t rely merely on federal probes and periodic elections.

Exactly who the new sheriff will be and just how an effective oversight system will be structured should become the central debate of the sheriff’s race over the coming year. Candidates should make clear not merely how they would eliminate inmate abuse and misconduct by deputies but how and where they would draw the line between their own independence as sheriff and their accountability for reform.

The LA Daily News’ editorial board calls for a strong candidate for sheriff and permanent civilian oversight of the department. Here’s a small clip from the opening:

Lee Baca’s sudden resignation comes as a pleasant surprise. Now, with the old sheriff out of the way, Los Angeles County can get on with choosing new leadership for the nation’s largest sheriff’s department and cleaning up the scandals in its law-enforcement force and jail staff.

But let’s be clear: This cleanup is a huge task. As Baca departs, the culture of violence and corruption that developed in his 15 years in charge remains. It will take both a strong successor and forceful oversight to repair the damage…

And, in an op-ed for the Daily News, Long Beach city prosecutor Doug Haubert throws his weight behind Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell, who is expected to announce soon whether he will join the race. Here’s a clip:

Sometimes, police get blamed for everything, and rarely do they get the credit they deserve. I watched as Chief McDonnell slowly built up a confidence level within the department and the community. That’s the kind of thing the county could use right now.

Also, the chief came in at the worst budget time imaginable. His first days on the job, he saw his department’s budget cut from under him, like a carpet ripped out from under his feet. I know because I came into my office under the same circumstances, one-third of my prosecutors have been cut from my department.

The chief showed grace under pressure, and that’s the kind of mettle needed in the next sheriff. I don’t envy the current sheriff, nor the next one. However, we will need someone with the courage to make tough decisions and take responsibility for those decisions. I can’t think of a better person to do this than Chief McDonnell.

Posted in California budget, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Education, juvenile justice, LASD, prison, School to Prison Pipeline, Sheriff Lee Baca, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 34 Comments »

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