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Head of LA Anti-Gang Dept. Resigns…Realignment, “Flash” Arrests, and the Battle Against Recidivism…and More

January 6th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

GUILLERMO CESPEDES TO LEAVE POST AS “ANTI-GANG CZAR,” AND WHAT THAT MEANS FOR LA

Director of LA’s Office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development, Guillermo Cespedes—whose innovative gang violence reduction efforts were considered an integral element in the city’s crime decrease over his nearly four-and-a-half-year tenure, and in helping kids stay out of gangs altogether—will be resigning this Thursday. Cespedes will be taking a position at Creative Associates International, in the organization’s crime and violence prevention division for Honduras and El Salvador.

On Thursday’s Air Talk, Frank Stoltze (filling in for Larry Mantle) talks to Cespedes, along with LA City Councilman and Chair of Public Safety Committee, Joe Buscaino, and UCLA violence reduction expert, Jorja Leap, about Cespedes’ move, his legacy and what the future holds for gang intervention in LA.

Here are a few clips from the highlights:

[Cespedes] On why he is leaving his post as anti-gang czar:

“I think that for me this is a natural evolution of the work that we’ve done in LA. It’s sort of interesting that people are framing it as me leaving LA, rather than the work is evolving. To me it’s a logical next chapter.

“Most of this started back in 2011, I was called into an officer involved shooting in Rampar/Pico-Union, a 17-year-old got killed, he happened to be gang-involved. I’m giving the mother the news and about 14 members of his family. She says to me, ‘I need to call his father and give him the news’…It dawned on me that she was calling El Salvador. I went back to the office and said to the staff that our concept of a grid zone is much larger than what we think, and probably about three months later I made my first trip to El Salvador. The motivation for it was to connect the work that we’re doing here with I think very important work that is being done there and those two elements need to connect.

[SNIP]

[Cespedes] On the basis of his programs to reduce gang violence:

Number one, you have to engage the people who are perpetrating the violence if you want to reduce violence. You cannot put up a lightbulb and hope that lighting up the neighborhood is going to reduce violence. You have to physically engage in an ethical way with the people who are perpetrating the violence. Number two, I believe we have to focus on behavior, not identity. We learned that from LAPD that blanketing a neighborhood based on a person’s identity backfired all through the ’70s, the ’80s and the ’90s. You have to look at specific behavior, who i perpetrating that behavior, not the entire neighborhood.

“Statistically, what we know from empirical data is little at 3 percent and as high as 15 percent of youth living in those marginalized communities…will likely become gang members… We used to think of dangerous neighborhoods, we used to think of youth violence, as if that came with the term, youth. I think if we look at data, this might not be the most violent generation of youth in decades, but yet youth violence seems to be like a first and last name… In LA we really had to break apart some assumptions, including what we think a family is.”

[SNIP]

[Buscaino] We’re excited…to work with the new mayoral administration and expanding the success of the grid program, as well as working forward with the county, and improving coordination and communication amongst the departments…

[SNIP]

[Jorja Leap] I do think there’s work to do… And I think we’ve got to look at reentry. We’ve got AB109—we’ve got prison realignment—and I think this is going to be a challenge…let’s celebrate the success, but let’s look to sustaining it. We need to stay the course.

(There’s a lot more, so be sure to go listen to the rest.)

EDITOR’S NOTE: We at WLA are fans of Cespesdes and are sorry to see him go—even though we know that LA’s loss will be Central America’s gain.


LA COUNTY’S STRUGGLE AGAINST RECIDIVISM, POST-REALIGNMENT

Since realignment began two years ago, and thousands of state prisoners were put under county oversight, LA County’s Probation Dept. has made considerable efforts to reduce recidivism. It has been no simple task.

One tactic the department has utilized, with mixed success, “flash” incarceration, allows probation officers to send supervision-violators to jail for up to ten days. Before realignment, probation-violators were usually sent back to state prison, which was expensive, mostly ineffective, and jammed the prison system.

So far, the new methods have had a small measurable success against rearrests, but the probation department has struggled to break the jail cycle. In December, nearly 20% of the realignment probationers had a current arrest warrant for absconding.

The LA Times’ Abbey Sewell has the story. Here are some clips:

Though hundreds of millions of dollars in increased state funding has been allocated to the county for the realignment program, local officials say it’s not enough to lock up, rehabilitate and keep track of the expanded population of criminals. Moreover, they contend that most of those the state indicated would be non-serious offenders have been assessed by local law enforcement officers to be high risks for committing new crimes.

[SNIP]

Use of the new ["flash" incarceration] tactic in Los Angeles County jumped nearly 300% in the second year of realignment to 10,000 “flash” arrests, a county analysis shows. Nearly half of those ex-inmates were incarcerated two or more times, with one jailed 13 times.

About 60% of a group of 500 felons shifted to county supervision in the first year of realignment were arrested for new crimes or violating probation — slightly higher than the 56% recidivism rate for former state prisoners overall, according to data from county and state studies.

Jeffrey Callison, a spokesman with the state’s corrections department, noted that those statistics show a slight reduction in rearrests of former prison inmates. That is cause to be “cautiously optimistic” that the program will disrupt cycles of crime in the future, he said.

However, the figures also show more churning through the jail system among ex-prisoners like Azevedo. Since realignment began, the proportion of former state inmates arrested four or more times in the first year after their release increased from 7% to 12%.

That’s partly the result of an increasing reliance on flash jail stays. They are seen as a less costly and less severe option for getting nonviolent offenders off the street — and getting probationers to change their behavior — than longer sentences that exacerbate overcrowding in county jails.

Supporters of realignment say the mini-sentences appear to be working: Most felons jailed for the short terms haven’t been rearrested on similar violations. They also note that repeat offenders can be sentenced to three months in jail.

[SNIP]

“If there’s anything we can do while they’re sitting in the county jail, a captive audience, to keep them from absconding when those gates are opened, we’re going to do it,” said county Probation Department Assistant Chief Margarita Perez, whose agency sought a lead role in realignment and is getting $80 million for the program this year.

Ultimately, prison reform advocates and state officials predict the new system will encourage alternatives to incarceration, allow offenders to be near their families and help them break drug habits and patterns of criminal behavior that return them to state prison.

So far, that hasn’t worked for Azevedo, 27, a self-described third-generation street gang member whose criminal history began when he was a child in the small northern Orange County city of Placentia…

After leaving Calipatria State Prison in April 2012, Azevedo ignored a requirement to report to an L.A. county probation officer and went back to the streets in Pacoima, where a girlfriend waited.

He was flash incarcerated six times and had his probation revoked four of those times. After each release from jail, he fled from county supervision…


THE IMPORTANCE OF REHABILITATION OUTSIDE OF JUVENILE CAMPS

KPCC’s Rina Palta has a worthwhile story about the finite value of juvenile camps and the new and welcome shift of focus toward youths’ reentry into the community. Here’s a clip:

L.A.’s Deputy Probation Chief Felicia Cotton says even when kids are successful in camp, once they go home, they often fall back to old behaviors.

“You’ll hear many people, and even parents that come to us and say, ‘hey take this kid and when we get him back, he’s going to be perfect,’” Cotton says. “Camp is not a cure-all.”

This belief – that camp is of limited value – is a cultural shift that’s growing inside L.A. County’s Probation Department. Now, Cotton says, camp is seen more as an intervention that momentarily plucks a kid from their ecosystem and tries to give them the skills to deal with whatever caused the behavior that led to detention.

“Because the real rehabilitation comes when they get in their natural ecology,” Cotton says.

Under a policy change being implemented over the past few months, more and more attention goes into planning for life back in the community. Each child leaving camp now has a team to plan his or her transition.


A SMALL UPDATE FROM THE LA SHERIFF CAMPAIGN-FRONT

Downtown News named sheriff-hopeful Bob Olmsted in their top seven Los Angeles political figures to watch in 2014, saying that if Olmsted “raises enough cash and gains steam, he could topple the king [Sheriff Lee Baca].”

Read about Olmsted and the other expected movers and shakers of 2014 here, at the top of page two.

Posted in Gangs, juvenile justice, Los Angeles County, Probation, Realignment, Reentry, Rehabilitation, Violence Prevention | 4 Comments »

4 Responses

  1. J.London Says:

    Downtown News is right! Olmsted will topple the so-called king, Lee Baca! And don’t count out Gomez will a significant amount of votes!

  2. GPA_UTL Says:

    Oh, no! We’re losing the “gang czar”? This is terrible news. He had such an impact on criminal street gangs on the streets and in the jails (as if there is any real separation).

    Say it ain’t so!

  3. J.London Says:

    GPA: Too funny! If the folks only knew what a rip off the Gang Czar really was!!

  4. Jack Dawson Says:

    Wake up never never land. Things are on the move on the 4th floor….

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