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Finding the Child Welfare Czar….”Overcorrected, Overdirected, and Overpunished” Kids…Dylan Roof and CA Prison Segregation…and More

July 9th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LA COUNTY SUPERVISORS MAY NAME A CHILD WELFARE CZAR TODAY

The LA County Board of Supervisors held a closed-door meeting Tuesday to interview two candidates to lead the Office of Child Protection, an entity recommended by a Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection convened to jumpstart much-needed reform efforts in the county child welfare system.

The Supes are slated to interview two more candidates today (Thursday), and could possibly issue their final decision today, as well.

Fesia Davenport, who has served as the interim child welfare czar, is reportedly among those being considered for the position.

Holden Slattery has more on the issue in a story for the Chronicle of Social Change. Here’s a clip:

Fesia Davenport, who the board appointed as interim director of the office in February, is a candidate for the position, according to Wendy Garen, president and CEO of the Ralph Parsons Foundation, which was one of 17 foundations to endorse the BRC recommendations in a letter to the Board of Supervisors.

“It’s been a robust process. There are outside candidates,” Garen said. “I do believe that Fesia [Davenport] is a candidate and that her performance to date has been remarkable.”

Garen said she has no knowledge about the other candidates and, due to that, she does not know whether Davenport is the best candidate for the job.

The creation of an Office of Child Protection was the most prominent recommendation to emerge from the Los Angeles County Blue Ribbon on Child Protection’s (BRC) December 2013 interim recommendations and again in its final report in April.

“I hope that the OCP director who the board ultimately hires is a person that is imbued with many of the traits that the child protection commission envisioned initially,” Leslie Gilbert-Lurie, co-chair of the transition team tasked with implementing the BRC recommendations, said in a phone interview Tuesday. “A strong leader with experience in child welfare who is collaborative and imaginative, and not afraid to stand up to the existing institutions.”


TO CHANGE “CHALLENGING” KIDS’ BEHAVIOR – DONT: PUNISH AND REWARD; DO: HELP KIDS UNDERSTAND AND LEARN FROM THEIR ACTIONS

Katherine Reynolds Lewis has an excellent longread for the July/August issue of Mother Jones Magazine about psychologist Ross Greene’s game-changing discipline methods of teaching kids problem-solving skills instead of employing the now largely discredited punishment-reward system developed by B.F. Skinner in the mid-20th century.

The idea is that, punishing children who are acting out, and who are often called “challenging,” only exacerbates kids’ underlying problems and helps to push them through the school-to-prison pipeline. Kids brains have not developed enough to have control over their behavior and emotions, so punishing them, instead of helping them understand the “why” behind their behavior, is extremely counterproductive, according to Greene’s theory.

Here are some clips:

…consequences have consequences. Contemporary psychological studies suggest that, far from resolving children’s behavior problems, these standard disciplinary methods often exacerbate them. They sacrifice long-term goals (student behavior improving for good) for short-term gain—momentary peace in the classroom.

University of Rochester psychologist Ed Deci, for example, found that teachers who aim to control students’ behavior—rather than helping them control it themselves—undermine the very elements that are essential for motivation: autonomy, a sense of competence, and a capacity to relate to others. This, in turn, means they have a harder time learning self-control, an essential skill for long-term success. Stanford University’s Carol Dweck, a developmental and social psychologist, has demonstrated that even rewards—gold stars and the like—can erode children’s motivation and performance by shifting the focus to what the teacher thinks, rather than the intrinsic rewards of learning.

In a 2011 study that tracked nearly 1 million schoolchildren over six years, researchers at Texas A&M University found that kids suspended or expelled for minor offenses—from small-time scuffles to using phones or making out—were three times as likely as their peers to have contact with the juvenile justice system within a year of the punishment. (Black kids were 31 percent more likely than white or Latino kids to be punished for similar rule violations.) Kids with diagnosed behavior problems such as oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and reactive attachment disorder—in which very young children, often as a result of trauma, are unable to relate appropriately to others—were the most likely to be disciplined.

Which begs the question: Does it make sense to impose the harshest treatments on the most challenging kids? And are we treating chronically misbehaving children as though they don’t want to behave, when in many cases they simply can’t?

That might sound like the kind of question your mom dismissed as making excuses. But it’s actually at the core of some remarkable research that is starting to revolutionize discipline from juvenile jails to elementary schools. Psychologist Ross Greene, who has taught at Harvard and Virginia Tech, has developed a near cult following among parents and educators who deal with challenging children. What Richard Ferber’s sleep-training method meant to parents desperate for an easy bedtime, Greene’s disciplinary method has been for parents of kids with behavior problems, who often pass around copies of his books, The Explosive Child and Lost at School, as though they were holy writ.

His model was honed in children’s psychiatric clinics and battle-tested in state juvenile facilities, and in 2006 it formally made its way into a smattering of public and private schools. The results thus far have been dramatic, with schools reporting drops as great as 80 percent in disciplinary referrals, suspensions, and incidents of peer aggression. “We know if we keep doing what isn’t working for those kids, we lose them,” Greene told me. “Eventually there’s this whole population of kids we refer to as overcorrected, overdirected, and overpunished. Anyone who works with kids who are behaviorally challenging knows these kids: They’ve habituated to punishment.”

Under Greene’s philosophy, you’d no more punish a child for yelling out in class or jumping out of his seat repeatedly than you would if he bombed a spelling test. You’d talk with the kid to figure out the reasons for the outburst (was he worried he would forget what he wanted to say?), then brainstorm alternative strategies for the next time he felt that way. The goal is to get to the root of the problem, not to discipline a kid for the way his brain is wired.

“This approach really captures a couple of the main themes that are appearing in the literature with increasing frequency,” says Russell Skiba, a psychology professor and director of the Equity Project at Indiana University. He explains that focusing on problem solving instead of punishment is now seen as key to successful discipline.

If Greene’s approach is correct, then the educators who continue to argue over the appropriate balance of incentives and consequences may be debating the wrong thing entirely. After all, what good does it do to punish a child who literally hasn’t yet acquired the brain functions required to control his behavior?

Schools and juvenile detention centers are starting to pick up Greene’s methods and are experiencing complete behavior turnarounds:

In 2004, a psychologist from Long Creek Youth Development Center, a correctional center in South Portland, Maine, attended one of Greene’s workshops in Portland and got his bosses to let him try CPS. Rodney Bouffard, then superintendent at the facility, remembers that some guards resisted at first, complaining about “that G-D-hugs-and-kisses approach.” It wasn’t hard to see why: Instead of restraining and isolating a kid who, say, flipped over a desk, staffers were now expected to talk with him about his frustrations. The staff began to ignore curses dropped in a classroom and would speak to the kid later, in private, so as not to challenge him in front of his peers.

But remarkably, the relationships changed. Kids began to see the staff as their allies, and the staff no longer felt like their adversaries. The violent outbursts waned. There were fewer disciplinary write-ups and fewer injuries to kids or staff. And once they got out, the kids were far better at not getting locked up again: Long Creek’s one-year recidivism rate plummeted from 75 percent in 1999 to 33 percent in 2012. “The senior staff that resisted us the most,” Bouffard told me, “would come back to me and say, ‘I wish we had done this sooner. I don’t have the bruises, my muscles aren’t strained from wrestling, and I really feel I accomplished something.’”

Read on…


PERSISTING WHITE SUPREMACY IN CA STATE PRISONS…AND DYLAN ROOF

In an essay for the Marshall Project, James Kilgore, who spent the majority of a six-and-a-half year prison term in California facilities, considers how Charleston church shooter Dylan Roof might be received at a CA prison where inmates have been racially segregated for decades.

Kilgore calls for national dialogue on white supremacy in prisons and urges lawmakers and corrections officials to put an end to their “complicity in reproducing hatred and division” through racially segregated detention facilities.

Here’s a clip:

He would certainly find instant camaraderie with the Peckerwoods, the Skinheads, the Dirty White Boys, the Nazi Low Riders. His admirers, men with handles like Bullet, Beast, Pitbull, and Ghost, would vow to live up to Roof’s example, either by wreaking havoc when they hit the streets or maybe even the very next day in the yard.

Roof’s newfound fan club would be ready to provide him with prison perks — extra Top Ramen, jars of coffee, a bar of Irish Spring. The guards, many with their own Roofish sympathies, would cut him some slack — an extra roll of toilet paper here, a few illicit minutes on the telephone there. If Roof were so inclined, the guards might turn a blind eye to his indulgence in illegal substances, from tobacco to papers of heroin to the carceral Mad Dog 20/20 known as “pruno.”

If Roof played by the convict code, he might quickly rise in the ranks of the white-power structure in the prison yard. Maybe after a few years, he would earn the status of “shot caller,” the highest rank within the racial groups. Then he could order hits on young white boys who defiled the race by playing a game of chess with a black man or offering a Latino a sip of his soda. Like all his white comrades, Roof would use the white showers, the white phones, the white pull-up bars. The yard might spark visions of a segregated utopia for Dylann, a wonderland where everyone was in their right place — separate and unequal.

But white supremacists in prison also live in a world of racial enemies. Fueled by paranoia and buttressed by complicit guards and administrators, Roof would be the target of personalized vengeance attacks. Just like on the streets, he would be constantly looking over his shoulder to fend off real and imagined enemies. In particular, he would realize that in a prison yard, there are plenty of black lifers who have nothing to lose and the muscle power to break him in half, like a dry stick. A warrior who took down Roof would get a hero’s welcome in the torturous isolation blocks at Pelican Bay or Corcoran. All this tension would no doubt make Roof a little uneasy, perhaps force him to remain “suited and booted,” armed with a razor blade in his mouth or a sharpened shank up his rectum.

But even with danger all around him, Roof might find solace in the fact that the prison authorities would not assign any whites and blacks to share a cell and would enable the segregation of day rooms and exercise spaces. This would be a refreshing change of pace for Roof.


WHY WAS POMONA TEEN ACCUSED OF ROBBERY FOUND BLUDGEONED TO DEATH IN HIS CELL, FAMILY ASKS

The parents of a 19-year-old robbery suspect, Rashad Davis, fatally beaten in his jail cell in May, want answers from the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department about why their son was assigned to a cell shared by a mentally unstable cellmate accused of beating a man to death with a baseball bat.

The SB Sheriff’s Dept. has not indicated whether or not Davis was housed with 22-year-old Jeremiah Ajani Bell due to a breakdown in screening protocol, but the department has recently been the subject of several scandals and investigations, including alleged excessive use of force and inadequate mental health treatment for inmates.

The LA Times’ Paloma Esquivel has the story. Here’s a clip:

Posted in CDCR, DCFS, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, Mental Illness, race, School to Prison Pipeline, Trauma, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

LA Officials to (Belatedly) Crack Down on Over-Drugging LA Kids….A Juvie Lifer Artist…and the Shooting of Walter Scott

April 8th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



MENTAL HEALTH OFFICIALS TO CRACK DOWN ON OVER-DRUGGING OF KIDS IN COUNTY CARE (UM…THAT WOULD BE NICE.)

In the past year, it has come to light that kids are being over-drugged in many of California’s various foster care and juvenile systems, LA County’s included. Then more recently, we learned that powerful medications are unnecessarily being jammed down the throats of poor kids via the Medicare system. (See here and here and here for some of the latest stories.)

Tuesday, however, there was a piece of good news when the LA Times’ Garrett Therolf reported that Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health officials plan to crack down on doctors who appear to be inappropriately prescribing powerful and dangerous antipsychotic drugs to kids in LA County’s foster care and juvenile justice systems.

The question is, however, knowing the serious dangers posed by overprescribing or wrongly prescribing antipsychotics for children or teenagers, why weren’t the county’s mental health officials paying better attention?

Here’s a clip from Therolf’s story:

Social workers and child welfare advocates have long alleged that the widespread use of the drugs is fueled in part by some caretakers’ desire to make the children in their care more docile. On May 1, the county Department of Mental Health is scheduled to launch a program to use computer programs to identify doctors who have a pattern of overprescribing the medications or prescribing unsafe combinations of the drugs.

Once problematic doctors are identified, the department will recommend that judges no longer approve their prescriptions for youth under court supervision.

Additionally, Los Angeles County mental health workers will fan out across the county to randomly interview children, caregivers and doctors about the reasons behind the prescriptions and how they are working.

The hope is that the in-person reviews will allow the county to go beyond the information doctors submit in their paperwork, offering a more complete picture of the youth’s mental health and whether less-intrusive interventions were used before turning to drugs.

“We know there is really a need to do this,” said Fesia Davenport who was recently named interim director of the county Office of Child Protection, a new agency charged with coordinating services across county departments for abused and neglected children. “Once we start to look at the data I think we’ll identify patterns and really understand why the use of the drugs seems to be high.”

In February, Therolf, writing for the LA Times, noted that “51% of California’s foster youth who are prescribed mental health-related drugs took the most powerful class of the medications — antipsychotics.” (And, of course, Karen de Sá, of the San Jose Mercury News, reported extensively on the over-drugging of foster kids in her multi-part series.)

That 51% figure is deeply concerning..

The risks of using antipsychotics on kids are considerable—except in certain very closely monitored situations. (For further details, read last week’s WLA story by Taylor Walker about the most recent study released showing the disturbing overuse of antipsychotics on Medicaid kids, with California one of the five states studied.)

The crack-down Therolf reports is a very welcome step, albeit distressingly belated. Yet, another underlying issue still calls out to be discussed, namely that, every study we have on the matter shows that most kids who land in foster care or the juvenile justice system, or both, are suffering from high degrees of childhood and adolescent trauma. This kind of toxic stress almost inevitably results in some kind of emotional and/or behavioral symptoms—which are crucial to address. But, in most cases, powerful drugs are neither an appropriate nor safe way to ameliorate and heal these issues.

Of course, real healing of trauma-harmed kids is labor intensive— and cannot be done from the remove at which one can prescribe drugs.

But that’s a discussion for another day.


A JUVENILE LIFER WHO MAKES MEANING WITH ART COULD BE AMONG THOSE GETTING NEW SENTENCE IF SCOTUS AGREES

In 1999, when Kenneth Crawford was fifteen, he was the getaway driver for a brutal murder of strangers. He did not himself beat, rob and shoot Diana Lynn Algar, 39, and her friend Jose Julian Molina, 33, at a campground in Pennsylvania. The admitted killer was an 18-year-old fellow drifter and carnival worker, David Lee Hanley. Nevertheless, Crawford was tried as an adult, and given a sentence of life without parole in a plea bargain to avoid the death penalty, which was still legal for juveniles as the time.

Although nearly all of his upbringing was horrific, Crawford makes no excuses for his involvement in the crime for which he was convicted.

“I was too drunk and full of pills and have only myself to blame,” he wrote to a couple who have befriended him during his time in prison.

The victims “were good people and their families did not deserve the pain and suffering they endured. I have begged the Lord for forgiveness and I believe I have been forgiven. But I will never forgive myself.”

One of the primary ways Crawford, now 31, finds meaning and solace in his life behind bars is painting miniature scenes on fallen leaves he collects. The results are remarkably beautiful.

Crawford is also one of the 2100 inmates given life sentences as teenagers, whose prison terms could possibly be affected when the U.S. Supreme Court deliberates the question, likely in September of this year, of whether their historic ruling of Miller v. Alabama should be applied retroactively. Miller, if you remember, which was presented by civil rights attorney and author, Bryan Stevenson, ruled that mandatory sentences of juvenile life without parole were unconstitutional.

Gary Gately has delved further into Crawford’s story for the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange.

Here are some clips:

Five years ago, Kenneth Carl Crawford III returned to that woods behind his childhood home in Oklahoma, but only in his mind — the only way he can go back now, perhaps the only way he’ll ever go there again in his time on this Earth.

After a storm, he had been gazing at a thick forest about 100 yards away when he noticed a bunch of leaves had blown over the high electric fences topped by razor wire and landed in the prison yard at the State Correctional Institution-Greene, here in the southwest corner of Pennsylvania.

Crawford picked up one of the leaves. “It had been a long time since I had touched a part of a tree, let alone held a piece of it in my hands,” he would write in his journal.

He kept looking at the leaf, mesmerized, nostalgic for so much of a bit of boyhood paradise lost.

Then he took the leaf back to his 8-by-12-foot cell and decided to recapture some of what he missed so dearly — and ultimately painted on it a scene right out of the woods he remembered.

He’s been painting wildlife scenes — and painting them superbly — on leaves ever since.

Crawford, 31, has plenty of time to create his miniature masterpieces. He’s serving a mandatory life-without-parole sentence for his involvement in a double murder at age 15 in 1999.

[SNIP]

Crawford, a lean man with the beginnings of a mustache and beard, calls the Sanfords “Mudder” and “Peepaw.” [The Sanfords are a couple who ran across his art and have gradually befriended him.]

“I’ve had ‘mothers’ and ‘fathers,’ and none of them turned out too well,” he says.

Indeed, his alcoholic father beat him, his brother and his two sisters with extension cords and switches in drunken rages and often left them home alone in their ramshackle trailer with no electricity or heat and little food. And he forced them to tend to his marijuana plants behind the trailer.

Crawford’s mother ran off with one of her boyfriends to work the carnival circuit when Ken was 5…..

When he was 9, Child Welfare Services came to remove Ken and his siblings from their father’s custody — and promised the children their lives would be much better with foster parents.

They weren’t.

Crawford recalls one 400-pound foster father who forced the children to scratch and bathe his legs because he could not reach down to them.

Another foster father showed off Ken’s ability to play football — until he outshone the man’s biological son, at which point the foster father made Ken quit the team.

A third foster father told him he’d be in prison by the time he was 18.

When Ken was 10 and wetting the bed, his foster mother screamed at him and ordered him to strip naked and lie on a towel on the living room floor. As other children in the home laughed, she put a diaper on him and made him wear it to school the next day.

He wet the bed again that night, and she forced him to sleep in the bathtub.

If he could change two things in his life, Crawford says now, he would have never have hung out with David Lee Hanley, and, if it were somehow possible, he would have eluded Child Welfare Services workers.

“If I could go back in time, I would have hid from Child Welfare Services. I should have hid. I shouldn’t have let them find us,” he says.

Speaking of his father’s abuse and neglect, he says: “That’s what we knew. It was nothing out of the ordinary for us. We still had something, and the physical abuse we grew up with I was used to.

“In foster care, it was mental abuse, and the mental abuse was much worse.”

Still, he’s quick to add that he doesn’t blame anybody for the circumstances that led to the double homicides. “I made the choices,” he says.


THE SHOOTING OF WALTER SCOTT

As most of you probably know by now, a 50-year-old black man named Walter Scott was fatally shot on Saturday in North Charleston, S.C., after being stopped for a broken tail light by a white Charleston police officer, Michael T. Slager, 33.

On Tuesday, Officer Slager was charged with murder.

Initially, Officer Slager reported that he made a traffic stop and was in foot pursuit after the subject. Next Slager reported shots fired and that the subject was down. “He took my Taser,” Slager said on the radio. Later, in the police report, Slager stated he had feared for his life because the suspect, Scott, had taken his taser in a scuffle.

However when a video taken by a bystander surfaced, and it told a very different story.

Here’s how the South Charleston Post and Courier describes what is on the video:

The three-minute clip of Saturday morning’s shooting starts [shakily], but it steadies as Slager and Scott appear to be grabbing at each other’s hands.

Slager has said through his attorney that Scott had wrested his Taser from him during a struggle.

The video appears to show Scott slapping at the officer’s hands as several objects fall to the ground. It’s not clear what the objects are.

Scott starts running away. Wires from Slager’s Taser stretch from Scott’s clothing to the officer’s hands.

With Scott more than 10 feet from Slager, the officer draws his pistol and fires seven times in rapid succession. After a brief pause, the officer fires one last time. Scott’s back bows, and he falls face first to the ground near a tree.

After the gunfire, Slager glances at the person taking the video, then talks into his radio.

The cameraman curses, and Slager yells at Scott as sirens wail.

“Put your hands behind your back,” the officer shouts before he handcuffs Scott as another lawman runs to Scott’s side.

Scott died there. [Actually, in the beginning Scott appears to be alive.]

Slager soon jogs back to where he fired his gun and picks up something from the ground. He walks back to Scott’s body and drops the object.

At no time, does Slager or the next officer on the scene, attempt to help the dying Scott, although one of the officers searches him and then eventually feels for a pulse.

According to the Post & Courier, Mr. Scott “had a history of arrests related to contempt of court charges for failing to pay child support. The only accusation of violence against Scott during his lifetime came through an assault and battery charge in 1987″—in other words, 27 years ago, when Scott was 23.

A family member told reporters that Scott likely ran because he didn’t want to be arrested for back child support.

In a statement released Tuesday night, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley (R) said, “What happened in this case is not acceptable in South Carolina.” Senator Tim Scott (R) said “The senseless shooting and taking of Walter Scott’s life was absolutely unnecessary and avoidable.” Senator Scott said that he would be watching the case closely.

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, juvenile justice, law enforcement, Los Angeles County, LWOP Kids, mental health, Youth | 7 Comments »

Tanaka Reappears with Tweet, LAPD Chief Beck Horse Purchase Controversy, Juvenile Justice Recommendations for Law Enforcement…and More

August 7th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

PAUL TANAKA RESURFACES WITH A TWEET, SAYS CAMPAIGN IS TAKING THE SUMMER OFF

On Monday we pointed to a story by KPCC’s Frank Stoltze asking where former undersheriff and current sheriff-hopeful Paul Tanaka (and his campaign staff) had disappeared to.

At the time of Stoltze’s story, Tanaka’s had last posted on Twitter June 3 (primary election day). The following day, after garnering only 15% of the vote, he posted on Facebook thanking those who voted for him, and saying that efforts must be redoubled moving forward. A month and a half later, the only new notes on either social media platforms were from supporters on Facebook wondering what had happened to the campaign.

On Tuesday, likely in response to Stoltze’s story, Tanaka posted an update both on Twitter and Facebook confirming that he is still in the race, but no longer campaigning. The Facebook update reads, “We are still in the race but giving our supporters an opportunity to spend the summer with their families. Thank you for understanding.”

ABC7′s Miriam Hernandez has more on the story. Here are some clips:

“It looks like this campaign went into hibernation,” said Jessica Levinson, a Loyola Law School professor and political analyst.

Where’s Tanaka? He vacated his Gardena headquarters, ignored an Eyewitness News request for an interview, and since early June, has been a no-show on social media — until a single tweet went out on Tuesday:

“We are still in the race but giving our supporters an opportunity to spend the summer with our families.”

“I think that anyone who really is running a full-force campaign would not wait until Labor Day to gear up,” said Levinson.

[SNIP]

Tanaka is sometimes visible at Gardena City Hall. He was elected to a third term last spring as mayor. The staff tells Eyewitness News he does not keep office hours, but has not missed a council meeting.

As for the sheriff’s run, one former Tanaka campaign manager says he and others have left.

“Paul is working on putting together a new team for the General Election run. Given the results of the primary, I think a shake up is needed,” said former Tanaka campaign manager Ed Chen

Also needed: funding. Tanaka’s filings with the Los Angeles County Registrar’s Office fill 10 pages, compared to 145 for McDonnell.

What we also learn from the registrar is that there’s no procedure for bowing out of the race. Tanaka’s name will be on the ballot, no matter what.


CONTROVERSY OVER LAPD CHIEF CHARLIE BECK’S INVOLVEMENT IN POLICE HORSE SALE

As the LA police commission’s Tuesday vote on whether to reappoint LAPD Chief Charlie Beck draws nearer, questions have been raised about his involvement in the department’s purchase of a horse from his daughter, Brandi Scimone (Pearson), an officer in the mounted unit.

When the issue originally surfaced, Chief Beck told the public that he was not involved in any way with the $6,000 horse transaction.

But documentation of the purchase bearing Beck’s signature was obtained by the LA Times. LASD spokesman Commander Andrew Smith told KPCC’s Frank Stoltze that the chief only signed off at the very end, after the horse had passed the customary, rigorous evaluation process.

Members of the police commission expressed concern with the discrepancy, but still appeared to be supportive of Beck (as did Mayor Eric Garcetti).

Here’s a clip from Stoltze’s story on the issue:

“That paperwork steered completely around me,” Beck told reporters gathered around him at police headquarters. “I kept it in Chief Moore’s shop,” said Beck, referring to Assistant Chief Michael Moore.

Now, the Los Angeles Times has published an LAPD memo that includes Becks’ signature, approving acceptance of the horse as a donation from the Police Foundation. The Foundation used $6,000 in private money to purchase the horse from the chief’s daughter, Brandi Pearson, for use in the department’s mounted unit. Pearson is an LAPD officer who is assigned to the mounted unit.

“The document would appear to be inconsistent with what he said,” Police Commission member Robert Saltzman said. “I was surprised and troubled by the document.”

“I think when there is an appearance of conflict of interest, we should bend over backwards to make sure the transaction is handled by others,” Saltzman added.

Then, on Wednesday evening, Chief Beck issued a statement saying he was mistaken in his first statements regarding the issue:

“Yesterday, I stated that the paperwork for the donation of a horse originally owned by my daughter, LAPD Officer Brandi Scimone, and purchased with private funds ‘steered completely around me.’ Since that time, I reviewed the file and realized that I had signed the LA Police Foundation’s Grant Request after the donation had been evaluated and approved by the Office of Special Operations and had also signed the Intradepartmental Correspondence to the Board of Police Commissioners to approve of the donation. Therefore, I now realize that my comments were mistaken.”

“After evaluating the circumstances of this donation, in retrospect, I should have ensured that the Department had formally transmitted to the Commission the additional documentation on file which identified the original owner of the horse. I will continue to work with the Commission to increase the Department’s transparency.”

Police commission president Steve Soboroff also issued a statement saying that after reviewing all information, he was satisfied that the chief had no involvement with the decision to purchase the horse.

Here’s a clip from CBS:

L.A. Police Commission President Steve Soboroff said he was “satisfied the commission will have sufficient disclosure going forward” based on Beck’s statement.

“After reviewing the information provided to date by the Department, the Inspector General, and Chief Beck, I am comfortable that the Chief was not involved in the selection, evaluation or purchase of the horse (by the LAPD Foundation) that was previously owned by Chief Beck’s daughter, LAPD Officer Brandi Scimone, and that he did not influence any decision to accept the donation by the Department,” Soboroff added.

The comments follow just hours after Beck came under fire when the memo addressed to him from Capt. Patrick Smith, dated March 14, 2014, emerged in a report by The Los Angeles Times.

The document explains the animal’s qualifications for service on the LAPD, and that the cost of the horse would be covered by a private donor, but identifies the seller only as “a department employee assigned to the Mounted Platoon,” rather than by name.

EDITOR’S NOTE:

We at WitnessLA have long thought highly of Los Angles Police Department chief Charlie Beck. Even before he was selected to head our city’s police department, we found him to be a straight shooter who loved policing but was realistic about the department’s imperfections, and about the necessity of healing its relationships with the communities it served. After he became chief, we observed his hand to be a steady one at the wheel. We also noted that Beck was a man unafraid to learn and change on the job (as evidenced by his recent efforts to be more transparent). As a consequence, the LAPD has improved considerably under his leadership.

That is why we are dismayed at the string of accusations of conflicts of interest and favoritism that have plagued Beck in the last few months. For instance, this past spring there was the chief’s controversial reversal of the decision to fire Shaun Hillmann, whose uncle happens to be a well-known former LAPD deputy chief. And, more recently, there are the allegations that a sergeant who reportedly had less-than-appropriate relations with two female officers, the chief’s daughter one of them, received a lighter form of discipline than was originally planned or was called for.

Finally, there is the matter of the purchase of Beck’s daughter’s horse for the department—a story we originally thought to be a silly non-controversy. Then suddenly there was the perception, at least, that Beck was less than one hundred percent honest about his involvement in all this horse buying business, a mistake that Beck has mostly rectified, as of Wednesday night.

We have no doubt that Chief Beck should be awarded a second five-year term next Tuesday when the police commission is scheduled to vote. Letting the chief finish the work he has begun at the LAPD is assuredly the best choice for our city. But a new contract should not be confused with a blanket approval of all of Beck’s actions.

Even the appearance of favoritism, especially when it comes to discipline, is toxic for a law enforcement organization.

This means that, whatever the truth of the various controversies, Chief Charlie Beck must work quickly and aggressively to correct the appearance that the rules are different for some favored people in the department that he leads.


ACTIONS FOR LAW ENFORCEMENT LEADERS TO TAKE TO REFORM THE JUVENILE JUSTICE SYSTEM

An important new report from the International Association of Chiefs of Police offers 33 recommendations for law enforcement leaders to reform the juvenile justice system at the local, state, and federal levels. The report was produced with the support of the MacArthur Foundation.

The report addressed areas for reform such as partnering with kids and their families, developing alternatives to justice system involvement and incarceration, data collection, and helping kids graduate. The report’s recommendations were developed at a National Summit on Law Enforcement Leadership in Juvenile Justice, where they received input from such advocate organizations as Justice for Families.

Here are the recommended actions for law enforcement leaders to improve interaction with kids who have behavioral disabilities and history of trauma:

Prevalent challenges: A large proportion of the young people who come into contact with law enforcement have mental health conditions, substance abuse problems, developmental disabilities, or trauma histories. These youth present distinct challenges in terms of how they interact with law enforcement and what their needs are. Law enforcement officers need training and protocols to enable them to better understand these issues and respond effectively.

Connecting youth and families with resources: Young people and their families are often in need of a wide range of services, and absent these services, criminal justice remedies alone will not be effective. As the first point of contact with many youth and families—long before any social services agency might learn of their needs—law enforcement officers have an opportunity to connect them with needed resources.

Recommendations

Law enforcement policies, practices and training should enable officers to respond appropriately to youth with mental health and substance abuse disorders and trauma histories by empowering officers to:

- understand the impact of these disorders and background on youth behavior;

– recognize and interpret the needs of a youth during first contact;

– respond appropriately with the aid of crisis intervention techniques to de-escalate conflicts and maximize the safety of officers, youth, and others; and

– make appropriate referrals to community-based services and minimize justice system involvement whenever possible.

Training on youth with trauma histories should include information on:

– the powerful and lasting effects trauma has on young people and their behavior;

– ways that arrest and detention can contribute to youth trauma; and

– the critical role of law enforcement in helping children recover from traumatic experiences by reinforcing safety and security.

As the first point of contact with many young people and families, law enforcement agencies have a unique vantage point to recognize unmet needs for behavioral health services and to collaborate with local government agencies and community-based providers to address systemic gaps in services.


LA TIMES’ ROBERT GREENE ON THE SUPES’ LASD OVERSIGHT DECISION

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted down the creation of a civilian commission to watch over the sheriff’s department. The Supes also chose to bind the department’s Inspector General to the board through an attorney-client relationship. This means that the Supes could receive his reports in closed-door meetings.

The LA Times’ Robert Greene says that what the sheriff’s department needs is oversight that reports to the public, not just the county supervisors.

Here’s how it opens:

In arguing against a civilian commission to oversee the Sheriff’s Department, Richard Drooyan on Tuesday read the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors a key passage from the report on jail violence he helped write in 2012. Such a commission, he said, “is not necessary if the Board of Supervisors continues to put a spotlight on conditions in the jails and establishes a well structured and adequately staffed OIG” — meaning the new Office of Inspector General.

They are the correct words to draw from the findings and recommendations of the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence, but they should direct readers to the opposite conclusion.

An oversight commission is not necessary if — and it’s the key “if” — the supervisors continue to focus on the jails and if they establish a well-structured and adequately staffed OIG.

In fact, as to the first “if,” the long, sorry record of the Board of Supervisors’ failed oversight of the Sheriff’s Department shows that its attention is too unfocused over time to properly do the job. That’s the whole point: Los Angeles County is facing federal court jurisdiction over treatment of inmates, has seen six deputies convicted of obstructing an FBI investigation and a dozen others indicted on various charges, and is paying out millions of dollars in lawsuit verdicts and settlements because the board was inadequate to the task of oversight.

It’s not that the supervisors weren’t on notice of the problems, which were detailed for them every six months, along with recommendations, by Special Counsel Merrick Bobb. They were indeed on notice, but somehow lacked the will or the ability to do much about it.

Now, after rejecting a civilian oversight commission on Tuesday, a majority of the supervisors insist that everything will change. They’ve learned their lesson. They’ll do better. They really mean it this time.

Posted in Charlie Beck, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAPD, LASD, Paul Tanaka | 13 Comments »

Isla Vista & the 2nd Amendment…..Paroling Lifers in CA…..LASD Opens Inmate Reentry Center….A One-of-a-Kind Sheriff’s Race….Next LASD/Fed Trial Begins Tuesday

May 27th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



ISLA VISTA & THE SECOND AMENDMENT

Three days before Elliot Rodger went on his murderous rampage on May 23 in Isla Vista, a new non-fiction book called The Second Amendment: A Biography was published to generally good reviews.

In it, the book’s author, Michael Waldman, examines the Second Amendment and our nation’s history with this short (27 words) and weirdly punctuated clause in the Constitution that has become freighted with so much acrimonious controversy. (Walman is a former Bill Clinton speechwriter who now heads up NYU Law School’s Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan think tank dedicated to “improving the systems of democracy and justice.”)

The timing of the book’s release turns out be painfully serendipitous, in that the horror of a mass shooting, like the tragedy of a few days ago, inevitably brings up a discussion of guns and what legislation would or would not help prevent a the next Columbine or Sandy Hook or Isla Vista (or—if one is bothering to look at statistics—the everyday shootings that regularly tear irrevocable holes in America’s most violence-haunted communities).

It would be nice to think that Waldman’s scholarly, but lively in tone, “The Second Amendment” could bring some much-needed sanity, and perhaps some facts, into that discussion.

LA Times book reviewer, David Ulin, reviewed Waldman’s book on Sunday. Here’s a clip from what Ulin wrote:

….Guns, after all, represent a microcosm of an America divided between left and right, urban and rural, collective and individual rights. It’s complicated further because it is encoded in the Bill of Rights — one of our foundational documents, to borrow a phrase from Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who famously sparred with Dianne Feinstein at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in 2013.

“[W]ould she consider it constitutional,” Cruz asked of Feinstein, “for Congress to specify that the First Amendment shall apply only to the following books and shall not apply to the books that Congress has deemed outside the protection of the Bill of Rights? Likewise, would she think that the Fourth Amendment’s protection against searches and seizures could properly apply only to the following specified individuals and not to the individuals that Congress has deemed outside the protection of the Bill of Rights?”

Cruz’s showboating aside — Feinstein responded that she was “not a sixth-grader” and didn’t need a lecture on the Constitution — these are important questions, not so much for pro-gun advocates as for supporters of privacy and free speech rights. What happens if we unravel one amendment, regardless of the way we feel about it? What does it mean for those amendments we prefer?

This is the puzzle of the 2nd Amendment, which, Waldman admits, is a problematic text at best. “Let’s be clear,” he writes: “the eloquent men who wrote ‘we the people’ and the First Amendment did us no favors in the drafting of the Second Amendment.”


PAROLING LIFERS IN CALIFORNIA: JERRY BROWN & THE NEW NORMAL

Governors Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger reversed nearly all of the parole recommendations for lifers that crossed their desks.

Governor Jerry Brown, in contrast, only reverses around 20 percent of the lifer parole approvals that he sees.

(And by lifers, in this case, we’re talking about people who got indeterminate sentences of, say 15-years-to-life, 25-to-life, 40-years-to-life—-or any such indeterminate sentence with with an “L” after it.)

When NPR’s Scott Shaffer asked Brown about the difference in reversal rates between him and his predecessors, Jerry said that his approach to the matter was “”to follow the law and evaluate very carefully each case, which I do every week.”

Although some suggest that Brown’s policy poses a risk to public safety, in fact, lifers have among the lowest recidivism rates of all released prisoners with less than 1 percent of paroled lifers winding up back in jail or prison.

Here’s a clip from Shaffer’s story:

….As for the difference between his rejection rate and those of previous governors, Brown says, “I don’t know what they did and whether they read the record or whether they looked at the law.” And, he points out, the law has changed.

He’s referring to the 2008 decision by the California Supreme Court that ruled that parole denials could not be based on the viciousness of a crime alone. Instead, the justices said, there must also be evidence that an inmate is still a threat.

The case involved Sandra Davis Lawrence, who fatally shot and killed a woman during a jealous rage. The parole board recommended her release four times, but it was reversed by three different governors. The state Supreme Court cited “overwhelming” evidence that Lawrence was rehabilitated and therefore no longer dangerous.

Jennifer Shaffer, executive director of the State Board of Parole Hearings, says that decision changed everything. “As you can imagine, if their crime alone could keep them from being paroled forever then that was really not life with the possibility of parole. So there had to be something else,” she explains.


WELCOME NEWS: THE LA COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT OPENS FIRST COMMUNITY REENTRY CENTER

Last Thursday, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department formally took a much welcome step in opening the county’s first Community Reentry and Resource Center, or CRRC, that is designed to help inmates make the crucial transition out of lock-up and back into life in their respective communities.

Christina Villacorte at the Daily News has more. Here’s a clip:

For the first time, jail inmates who have served their time can walk out of their cells and go straight into a one-stop shop for finding a place to live, staying sober and getting a job.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Thursday opened the first-ever Community Reentry and Resource Center at its jail complex in downtown Los Angeles.

“One of the challenges for newly released inmates is avoiding a return to drug use and crime,” Sheriff John Scott said during the grand opening ceremony. “It can be a difficult road — their families may not accept them, finding a job may be difficult, and old friends may be eager to support bad habits — and that often contributes to an offender’s return to criminal behavior and, ultimately, to jail.”

Scott said the CRRC, located at the lobby of the Twin Towers Correctional Facility across the street from Men’s Central Jail, would give newly released inmates a “better chance for a successful transition.”

“This is designed to give hope to people,” added Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald.

Read the rest here.

We look forward to giving you additional details once we’ve seen the CRRC for ourselves. But for now we are simply cheering this smart step by the sheriff’s department in helping combat offender recidivism.


A SHERIFF’S RACE LIKE NO OTHER (NO, REALLY!)

The LA Times Rob Greene explains why this particular 7-candidate race for LA County Sheriff is so unique.

Here’s a clip:

….We’re still digging to find a time when voters actually chose a new sheriff, with no incumbent or incumbent’s designee on the ballot.

You’d think this would be easy to nail down. But Los Angeles was so different then — before voters adopted the 1913 “home rule” charter, with its civil service protections and other progressive reforms. Candidates were anointed by political bosses and nominated at county party conventions instead of selected in primary elections. Sheriffs’ tenures were brief, deputies were openly hired and fired based on political support, and the sheriff was paid in part by the fees and fines he collected.

In the 1890s and the first decade of the 20th century, four men wrestled over the office — Cline, Hammel, John Burr and William White — along with their respective factions of job seekers and patrons. When Burr was elected in 1894, he went into hiding to avoid a throng of would-be deputies, and in so doing, he failed to show up at the proper time and place to take office. The job was declared vacant, and the Board of Supervisors ended up appointing him.

So when was the last time the choice was this wide open, with no incumbent and no front-runner, and with voters firmly in charge of who the next sheriff would be? In the era in which county politics were something we’d recognize today?…..


AND SPEAKING OF THE SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT….THE NEXT ANTHONY BROWN/OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE TRIAL BEGINS TUESDAY

On Tuesday, attorneys for the prosecution and for the defense in the second of two obstruction of justice trials, involving federally indicted members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, will deliver opening statements at 8 a.m. sharp Tuesday morning in the courtroom of Judge Percy Anderson.

Now that the trial of Deputy James Sexton resulted in a mistrial last week, with the jury split six-six down the middle, it will be interesting to see how Sexton’s case affects the way defense attorneys and prosecutors reposition their arguments, and retool their witness lists.

Just to remind you, this second trial involves six defendants: Lieutenants Gregory Thompson and Stephen Leavins, sergeants Scott Craig and Maricella Long, and deputies Mickey Manzo and Gerard Smith.

We’ll keep you up to date on what happens.

Posted in 2014 election, crime and punishment, criminal justice, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), FBI, guns, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, parole policy, Sentencing, U.S. Attorney | 5 Comments »

Isolation’s Effects on Kids…LAPD Motorcycle Officer Christopher Cortijo Has Died…Dismantled LAPD Dash-Cam Update…What’s Really Blocking Child Welfare Reform…and a New Prison Overcrowding Compliance Officer

April 10th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

CHILD PSYCHIATRIST SAYS LOCKING KIDS IN SOLITARY IS “THE ULTIMATE MESSAGE THAT WE DON’T CARE FOR YOU”

Dr. Bruce Perry is a child psychiatrist and senior fellow at the ChildTrauma Academy, who has consulted on Columbine, Hurricane Katrina, and several other catastrophic events involving children.

In a Q&A with Trey Bundy of the Center for Investigative Reporting, Dr. Perry explains in clear terms why solitary confinement is so psychologically damaging to the kids unlucky enough to get locked inside.

Here’s a clip:

We hear a lot of stories about prolonged isolation, but what are the effects of just a few days of solitary confinement on kids?

They end up getting these very intense doses of dissociative experience, and they get it in an unpredictable way. They’ll get three days in isolation. Then they’ll come back on the unit and get two days in isolation. They’ll come back out and then get one day. They end up with a pattern of activating this dissociative coping mechanism. The result is that when they’re confronted with a stressor later on, they will have this extreme disengagement where they’ll be kind of robotic, overly compliant, but they’re not really present. I’ve seen that a lot with these kids. They’ll come out, and they’re little zombies. The interpretation by the staff is that they’ve been pacified. “We’ve broken him.” But basically what you’ve done is you’ve traumatized this person in a way that if this kid was in somebody’s home, you would charge that person with child abuse.

Kids in isolation must lose all sense of control. What’s the impact of that?

One of things that helps us regulate our stress response is a sense of control. With solitary, when you start to take away any option, any choice, you’re literally taking somebody with a dysregulated stress response system, like most of these individuals in jail, and you’re making it worse. The more you try to take control, the more you are inhibiting the ability of these individuals to develop self-control, which is what we want them to do.

How does it affect a kid’s sense of self-worth to be locked away from everyone else?

Most of these kids feel marginalized to start with. They feel like they’re bad, they did something wrong, they don’t fit in. And isolation is essentially the ultimate marginalization. You’re so marginalized you don’t even fit in with the misfits, and we are going to exclude you from the group in an extreme way. In some ways it’s the ultimate message that we don’t care for you. We are neurobiologically interdependent creatures. All of our sensory apparatus is bias toward forming and maintaining relationships with human beings. When you are not part of the group, it’s a fundamental biological rejection.

Do go read the rest of this worthwhile Q&A.


WELL-LIKED LAPD MOTORCYCLE OFFICER CRITICALLY INJURED IN CRASH, HAS DIED

Christopher Cortijo, an LAPD motorcycle officer, who was struck on Saturday by a driver allegedly under the influence of drugs, has died.

Cortijo, who was assigned to DUI enforcement, was stopped at an intersection in North Hollywood when a driver hit his motorcycle, pinning him between her SUV and the Honda in front of him. Officer Cortijo lost the fight for his life Wednesday.

Our hearts go out to Cortijo’s family, friends, and fellow officers. The death of a law enforcement officer is an unimaginable loss for loved ones, but it is also a blow to the greater community.

The LA Daily News’ Brenda Gazzar and Kelly Goff have the story. Here’s a clip:

Officer Christopher Cortijo was a 26-year police veteran who was assigned to DUI enforcement. He was gravely injured and went into a coma after a Chevy Blazer slammed into his motorcycle, which was stopped at a red light at Lankershim Boulevard and Saticoy Street, around 5:30 p.m. Saturday.

The driver, a Pacoima woman whose license had expired years ago, was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs. After several days in the Intensive Care Unit at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center, with officers or family at his bedside around the clock, Cortijo was taken off his ventilator on Wednesday, officials said.

The 51-year-old North Hollywood resident, who had served in the U.S. Marines, was married with adult children.

“It’s a tremendous sadness for all of us,” Deputy Chief Jorge Villegas, who oversees the LAPD’s Valley Bureau, said in a telephone interview. “He was not only a great officer, but a great person. Everyone’s thoughts are with his family. His family will be our family forever.”

About 100 officers lined the walkway outside the ICU at Providence in Mission Hills as Cortijo’s body was taken to the coroner’s van, wrapped in a flag. Nurses similarly lined the hallways inside the building, according to hospital spokeswoman Patricia Aidem.

Police Chief Charlie Beck and Mayor Eric Garcetti, flanked by about a dozen LAPD motor officers who worked with Cortijo, spoke to reporters late Wednesday afternoon in downtown.

“I was devastated when I heard the news,” Garcetti said. “My heart sank when the chief called me.”

Garcetti said Cortijo’s death was a reminder of the “sacrifice that our bravest heroes make.”

Garcetti said he ordered city flags lowered to half-staff in Cortijo’s honor.

Cortijo was twice named Officer of the Year as a motorcycle cop, Beck said. He arrested more than 3,000 people driving under the influence during his career, Beck said.

“The ultimate irony is that Chris spent his life keeping all of us safe from people who drive under the influence of drugs and alcohol,” Beck said.


IN OTHER LAPD NEWS…

Yesterday, we pointed to a story about the unauthorized dismantling of 80 LAPD in-car surveillance cameras, and the subsequent failure of LAPD officials to investigate.

Gary Ingemunson, independent counsel for the LAPD union (the Los Angeles Police Protective League), has a story from February on the union’s blog that gives a little bit of extra context—another piece of the puzzle. Ingemunson says that many officers feel the tool is being used against them unfairly, in instances other than “crime documentation and prosecution.”

Read Ingemunson’s story about an officer who was punished for an accident that would have likely been considered non-preventable, if not for a questionable conversation he had with his partner (recorded by the dash-cam) right before the collision.

Here’s a small clip:

The accused officer and his partner engaged in a conversation that higher management did not like and felt reflected on the cause of the accident. This, of course, ignores another special order regarding the DICVS. Special Order 45 states “The Digital In Car Video System is being deployed in order to provide Department employees with a tool for crime documentation and prosecution and not to monitor private conversations between Department employees.”

While it does not excuse the officers who tampered with the cameras, it raises an issue that management might want to think about.


BUREAUCRACY IS THE TRUE KILLER OF DCFS REFORM

Later this month, the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection, established by the LA County Board of Supervisors, will present their final report, chock-full of recommendations for reforming the dysfunctional Department of Children and Family Services. But these recommendations may not be all that new. The commission found 734 recommendations presented over the years, either not in play at all, or stuck in the beginning stages of implementation.

On March 28, at second-to-last meeting of the LA County Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection, commission-member Andrea Rich said that bureaucracy, itself, is what’s blocking past and present child welfare reforms.

Two members of the Board of Supervisors (Zev Yaroslavsky and Gloria Molina) are terming out and new faces will take their seats. Two years from now, two more supervisors will be replaced (Michael Antonovich and Don Knabe).

The LA Times’ Robert Greene says this change-up is a real opportunity for reform, if only the supervisor candidates will rise to the challenge. Here’s a clip:

“Bureaucracies not carefully managed and consistently improved have characteristics that are destructive to client-oriented services, impede innovation, stifle efforts at self-improvement,” she said. “This sort of narrow span of control and bureaucratic risk-aversion typical of the bureaucratic process constantly thwarts efforts toward meaningful reform. And we’ve seen it over and over in our studies here and in testimony.”

Commission Chairman David Sanders also headed an L.A. County department – the often-criticized Department of Children and Family Services – but he said Monday that he was surprised at the extent of the dysfunction he saw from his new perspective compared with what he saw at DCFS.

Translation: The county is messed up. Efforts to reform the child protection system are doomed without a thorough overhaul – not of DCFS but of the entire county governmental edifice, the way it thinks and the way it works.

So how can that kind of overhaul happen? There are two ways to answer the question. One way is to look at the list of 734 recommendations for improving the child protection system offered to the Board of Supervisors and various county departments over the years that the commission found gathering dust on shelves or at best stalled in some early stage of implementation, and conclude that county government is hopeless.

The other is to look at the looming change in county leadership, with two of the five supervisors leaving office this year – the first time there has been that sweeping a change since Michael D. Antonovich ousted Baxter Ward and Deane Dana booted Yvonne Burke a generation ago, in 1980 – and candidates vying to replace them. Antonovich, still serving on the Board of Supervisors 34 years later, and Don Knabe, who succeeded his boss and mentor Dana, will likewise be replaced in two years.

Los Angeles County can have the exact same government and culture with slightly different faces, or it can embrace an opportunity for new thinking.

It’s fine for candidates to talk about how they would hire more child social workers, although the county is already on track to do that. Or how they would change deployment, although those kinds of changes are constantly discussed and always seem to be in the works.

In the view of the commission – this is preliminary, because the final report is yet to be adopted – there is an even more global mandate, and while members of the panel may insist that their recommendations are all about ensuring child safety, a closer look suggests that they go to the heart of numerous challenges that this big, awful bureaucracy faces in order to accomplish anything: Explicitly define its mission; put someone in charge of executing it; measure success and failure.

Sitting supervisors may well protest that these things are already being done, and candidates may be puzzled at marching orders that sound more like a homework assignment in an MBA student’s organization behavior class than social work.

But that’s the point. The county has grown and segmented itself so quickly that it has lost its sense of priorities; or rather, its sense of priorities is set by news headlines, scandals, outrages and political campaigns.

Read the rest.


CALIFORNIA GETS A NEW PRISON POPULATION COMPLIANCE OFFICER

On Wednesday, federal judges named Elwood Lui California’s prison population “compliance officer.” Lui, a former associate justice of the California Court of Appeal, has been tasked with releasing prisoners if the state fails to comply with the judges’ population deadlines throughout the next two years. (Backstory here.)

The Sacramento Bee’s Sam Stanton has the story. Here’s a clip:

Lui was one of two candidates for the position suggested by lawyers representing the state. He has agreed to serve without compensation but to have reasonable expenses reimbursed, according to the order from the panel issued Wednesday afternoon…

The judges originally ordered California in 2009 to cut its inmate population to 137.5 percent of capacity, but appeals delayed that and resulted in the Feb. 10 order giving the state two more years to comply.

The February order also gave the compliance officer authority to release the necessary number of inmates to ensure that California meets the court-ordered deadlines.

The compliance officer now has the authority to release inmates if the prison population is not cut to 143 percent of capacity by June 30 (or 116,651 inmates); to 141.5 percent by Feb. 28, 2015 (115,427 inmates); and to 137.5 percent a year after that (112,164 inmates).

Posted in DCFS, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAPD, prison, solitary | 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 »

NY Ends Solitary Confinement of Kids, LA Times Book Award Finalists Announced, People of Color in Private Prisons…and More

February 20th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

NY BECOMES LARGEST PRISON SYSTEM IN THE US TO BAN ISOLATION OF INCARCERATED KIDS

On Wednesday, the state of New York agreed to stop using solitary confinement as a punishment for inmates under 18, in response to a New York Civil Liberties Union lawsuit. The state will also limit its use of solitary confinement for other inmates: it will no longer be an option for disciplining pregnant prisoners, and isolation of the developmentally disabled will be capped at 30 days.

NY Times’ Benjamin Weiser has the story. Here’s a clip:

State correction officials will also be prohibited from imposing solitary confinement as a disciplinary measure for inmates who are pregnant, and the punishment will be limited to 30 days for those who are developmentally disabled, the court filing says.

The agreement imposes “sentencing guidelines” for all prisoners, specifying the length of punishment allowed for different infractions and, for the first time in all cases, a maximum length that such sentences may run, the civil liberties group said. No such guidelines exist, except in cases involving certain violent and drug-related offenses.

“New York State has done the right thing by committing to comprehensive reform of the way it uses extreme isolation, a harmful and inhumane practice that has for years been used as a punishment of first resort” in the state’s prisons, said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the organization.

Several states, including Colorado, Mississippi and Washington, had begun to address the issue of how to reduce the use of solitary confinement; a Senate judiciary subcommittee is holding a hearing next week on the issue.

Taylor Pendergrass, the lead lawyer in the case for the civil liberties group, said a small number of states had also banned or limited the use of solitary confinement for inmates under 18, in adult or juvenile detention facilities.

But given New York’s size and visibility, the agreement places the state “at the vanguard” of progressive thinking about how to move away from “a very punitive system that almost every state has adopted in one form or another over the last couple of decades,” Mr. Pendergrass said.

[BIG SNIP]

Under the agreement, 16- and 17-year-old prisoners who are subjected to even the most restrictive form of disciplinary confinement must be given at least five hours a day of outdoor exercise and programming outside of their cells. The state must also set aside space at designated facilities to accommodate the minors who would normally be placed in solitary confinement.


LA TIMES BOOK AWARD FINALISTS

The finalists for the LA Times Book Awards were announced on Wednesday.

This year, WLA’s editor judged Current Interest in nonfiction, of which there were five outstanding books shortlisted:

“Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital” by Sheri Fink (Crown)
“Thank You for Your Service” by David Finkel (Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
“Detroit: An American Autopsy” by Charlie LeDuff (The Penguin Press)
“Manifest Injustice: The True Story of a Convicted Murderer and the Lawyers Who Fought for His Freedom” by Barry Siegel (Henry Holt & Co.)
“Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief” by Lawrence Wright (Knopf)

There are a number of great books in every other category, as well, so go check out the rest of the finalists. Award winners will be announced on April 11 (followed by the LAT Festival of Books on April 12-13 at USC).


HIGHER RATE OF PEOPLE OF COLOR HELD IN PRIVATE PRISONS THAN PUBLIC PRISONS

An even larger racial disparity exists in private prisons than in public prisons, according to a new study by UC-Berkeley researcher Christopher Petrella. All nine states analyzed in the study, including California, showed higher percentages of people of color in private prisons than in public facilities.

Mother Jones’ Katie Quandt has more on the study’s implications (including some very helpful graphs). Here’s a clip:

Once sentenced, people of color are more likely than their white counterparts to serve time in private prisons, which have higher levels of violence and recidivism (PDF) and provide less sufficient health care and educational programming than equivalent public facilities.

The study compares the percentage of inmates identifying as black or Hispanic in public prisons and private prisons in nine states. It finds that there are higher rates of people of color in private facilities than public facilities in all nine states studied, ranging from 3 percent in Arizona and Georgia to 13 percent in California and Oklahoma. According to Petrella, this disparity casts doubt on cost-efficiency claims made by the private prison industry and demonstrates how ostensibly “colorblind” policies can have a very real effect on people of color.

Private prisons have consistently lower rates of older inmates because they often contractually exempt themselves from housing medically expensive—which often means older—individuals (see excerpts from such exemptions in California, Oklahoma, and Vermont), which helps them keep costs low and profits high. This is just another example of the growing private prison industry’s prioritization of profit over rehabilitation, which activists say leads to inferior prison conditions and quotas requiring high levels of incarceration even as crime levels drop. The number of state and federal prisoners housed in private prisons grew by 37 percent from 2002 to 2009, reaching 8 percent of all inmates in 2010.

(Read on.)


ASSEMBLING AN LASD CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT COMMISSION

In an LA Times editorial (part two in a series this week), Robert Greene says that a civilian oversight commission for the LASD should not be comprised of five members chosen by the five LA County Supervisors. This format would not be far enough removed from the influence of the Board of Supervisors to provide real, independent oversight, he says. Instead, the board should consider a larger number of commissioners, appointed, in part, by people other than the Supervisors.

Here are some clips:

The size and composition of a citizens’ oversight body is inextricably linked both to its mission and to the nature of the authority to which it reports. If it’s a five-member panel, with each member appointed by and answerable to the supervisors, why not just have the supervisors exercise oversight directly? Isn’t that what we already have, and what already failed to hold the sheriff to account for the beatings of jail inmates, the inept hiring of deputies, the enormous liability payouts?

In fact, such a commission might be even worse than the status quo, because it would provide a misleading veneer of independence and lend political cover to the supervisors, who could attempt to pull the sheriff’s strings via their commission appointees without being quite as obvious about it.

Consider, for example, the 10-member redistricting commission that the supervisors appointed in 2010 to redraw the county election map. In this case, each supervisor got two appointees, all of whom are fairly well-regarded people, but all of whom were selected to in at least some sense do the bidding of the supervisor who appointed them. They voted accordingly, becoming proxies for the supervisors. It was obvious whose bidding they were doing. Why bother with such a commission?

No doubt members of the Board of Supervisors would protest: We never told our Boundary Review Committee appointees how to vote! But they didn’t have to. The appointees knew who they were working for, and they knew that they could be replaced.

There was far less of a concern with the seven-member Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence, the panel that the Board of Supervisors created and appointed in 2011 to examine improper use of force in county jails and recommend corrective action.

Yes, each of five members was appointed by a county supervisor. But then those five appointed two more, establishing a measure of separation from the board.

[SNIP]

The mission was limited, as was the panel’s duration. And because the same news stories and lawsuits that moved the board to create the commission also focused public attention on its proceedings, there was little chance of supervisors trying to sway their appointees without being noticed.

But a permanent commission to oversee the Sheriff’s Department would continue to operate during times of both great and paltry public attention, and would have to resist influence by the Board of Supervisors or, again, what’s the point?

Posted in juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, prison, racial justice, solitary | No Comments »

Feds Address Contra Costa Juvenile Hall’s Use of Solitary Confinement…a Call for LASD Oversight…and DCFS Simulates Home Visits for Social Worker Trainees

February 19th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

JUSTICE AND EDUCATION DEPTS JUMP INTO LAWSUIT AGAINST CONTRA COSTA’S ISOLATION PRACTICES IN JUVENILE HALL

Both the US Department of Justice and Department of Education has intervened in a federal lawsuit challenging Contra Costa County’s solitary confinement of mentally disabled kids, and the lack of education provided to them while in isolation. A statement of interest by the DOJ and DOE requested that the presiding judge deny motions to dismiss the case and asked that both departments be able to take part in the oral arguments.

The Contra Costa Times’ Matthias Gafni has the story. Here’s a clip:

The Justice Department’s filing quoted findings from a departmental task force that concluded:

“Nowhere is the damaging impact of incarceration on vulnerable children more obvious than when it involves solitary confinement.” It said such confinement could lead to “paranoia, anxiety and depression” and creates a risk of suicide.

The lawsuit was filed last August by Berkeley-based Disability Rights Advocates, along with a pro-bono law firm and a private firm, on behalf of a teenage girl and two boys, all of whom were or are still detained at the maximum-security, 290-bed Martinez facility.

In March, a San Francisco federal judge will rule whether to grant class-action status to the suit, allowing other disabled youths to sue the county Probation Department, which runs juvenile hall, and the Contra Costa Office of Education, which runs the McKinley School inside the facility.

An attorney representing the teens said the solitary confinement policy is from the “Dark Ages.”

“We do know that Contra Costa is probably one of the worst,” said Marie-Lee Smith, Disability Rights Advocates’ managing attorney. “There are many counties that do not use solitary confinement. It’s very troubling and very disturbing to see a county continue to use this form of discipline.”

Smith said it was extremely rare for the Justice Department to weigh in on a lawsuit, and even more unusual for federal education officials to join. In a Feb. 13 filing, the feds voiced concerns over using solitary confinement to punish detained youths, citing a 2002 Department of Justice study finding such treatment led to mental problems and even additional suicide attempts.

Unlike jails for adults, under state law juvenile halls are required to provide a “supportive homelike environment” and focus on rehabilitation, not punishment. Punishments based on a youth’s disability must be treated differently from other discipline, and facilities must provide schooling, including special education, even if youths are being disciplined, according to state law.

The suit also alleges the county fails to provide adequate special education opportunities for all disabled youths.

(The LA Times’ Lee Romney also reported on this issue.)


EDITORIAL: THE LASD TROUBLES ARE NOT OVER YET

So far, 20 members of the LA County Sheriff’s Dept. have been indicted as part of a federal investigation, and there are almost surely more indictments to come. Sheriff Lee Baca retired abruptly at the end of January, and the LA County Board of Supervisors chose OC Undersheriff John Scott to take over as interim sheriff until the November election (or the June primary, at the earliest). Moreover, all the recommendations made by the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence are—at least theoretically—on their way to being implemented.

But do these things herald the end of an era of LASD corruption and misconduct scandals?

In an LA Times editorial, Robert Greene says the crisis isn’t over yet, not by a long shot, and won’t be until there is permanent and meaningful oversight of the department. It is time to really start the discussion, he says. Here are some clips:

…We are not done. The system did not work. The system, in fact, is at the core of the culture that pervades the Sheriff’s Department even in years in which the anguish of abused inmates and their families, the outrage of deputy cliques with their own gang-like tattoos and codes of silence, the astonishing number of deputies arrested for drunk driving don’t make it to the headlines or don’t catch the interest of voters.

The system of an elected sheriff in a county of 10 million people, the vast majority of whom aren’t served by his deputies and need not pay attention to his department’s travails, is an anachronism.

But of course, that invites a host of questions: If the sheriff isn’t elected, who should appoint him? Would the Board of Supervisors, also protected by a veneer of democracy without facing any serious electoral challenge, do a better job of running the Sheriff’s Department than the sheriff? Would the supervisors be better at picking a sheriff than they were in recent years at picking a chief probation officer or a director of the Department of Children and Family Services? What is the value of added accountability if the sheriff merely is subject to the direction of others who are virtually unaccountable?

[SNIP]

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas introduced a motion last September, when Baca was still in office and still considered likey to be reelected, that would create a five-member citizens oversight commission, appointed by and reporting to the Board of Supervisors. Gloria Molina seconded it. But Ridley-Thomas has repeatedly pulled the matter from the agenda, suggesting a struggle to find a third, and winning, vote.

The matter is on the calendar to come before the board again next Tuesday — but to date there has been little public discussion of the proposal’s merits and pitfalls.

It’s time for that discussion. Some of it must necessarily be wonky, dealing with balances of power and political theory; and some of it must be mercilessly pragmatic (why, for example, would any elected sheriff ever pay such a commission any mind?)…


NEW SIMULATION ROOM PREPS DCFS WORKERS FOR THE CHALLENGES OF REAL LIFE HOME VISITS

As part of the LA Department of Children and Family Services training system overhaul, new social workers are sent into a simulation house where role-players reproduce home visit scenarios to prep the social worker trainees for the realities of protecting LA’s 35,000 DCFS-involved kids.

DCFS has also increased the total training time social workers receive from 8 weeks, to a full year of instruction before being sent out in the field.

The LA Daily News’ Christina Villacorte has the story. Here are some clips:

Entering a home where a father may have broken his baby’s arm in a drunken rage, the rookie social workers tried to soften the family’s guarded apprehension — albeit not always successfully.

“I’m with the Department of Family and Children’s Services,” one nervously told the sullen man who opened the door, even incorrectly stating the name of their agency.

Another rookie sat hesitantly on a couch in a cluttered living and dining room, not noticing the scissors on a coffee table, which could have been used as a weapon had tensions escalated.

Fortunately, no one was in real danger.

The “home” is a simulation laboratory where trainers from the county’s Department of Children and Family Services can collaborate with teachers from various universities as well as law enforcement and legal consultants to help the next generation of social workers.

“It’s OK to make mistakes here,” academy instructor Beth Minor told a class, standing next to a prop refrigerator with a whisky bottle and flyer for Alcoholics Anonymous.

“When you go out in the field and it counts, we want you to take the lessons that you learned here, and apply them.”

[SNIP]

Cal State Los Angeles agreed to build a 440-square-foot residential simulation laboratory with a facade, living and dining room adjacent to the kitchen, bedroom, bathroom and hallway closet for about $17,000. University officials also allowed trainers to use a second simulation lab, resembling a hospital room, that was built years ago for medical courses.

“The simulation is the cornerstone of the new training,” said Harkmore Lee, director of Cal State Los Angeles’ Child Welfare Training Center and a former social worker. “This is where their learning becomes concrete, and also where we can assess whether they’re getting it or not.”

Research has shown that people typically retain from 5 percent to 10 percent of what they learn through reading and lectures, and 80 percent to 90 percent of what they practice in simulation, said James Ferreira, Cal State Long Beach’s Child Welfare Training Center director.

Posted in DCFS, Education, Foster Care, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, Sheriff John Scott, Sheriff Lee Baca, solitary, The Feds | 48 Comments »

OC’s John Scott Named Interim Sheriff—& So Far the News Seems Good

January 29th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


THE NEW SHERIFF IN TOWN IS OC’S JOHN SCOTT

On Tuesday after much speculation, a couple of closed meetings between the members of the LA County Board of Supervisors, and many side meetings in the individual Supes’ offices, the board members finally agreed upon a selection for the interim LA County Sheriff.

Their pick is John Scott. And the early word is good on the selection of Scott who, for the last few years, has been the undersheriff of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department under OC Sheriff Sandy Hutchins. Prior to his Orange County job, Scott worked for the LA County Sheriff’s Department for over 3 1/2 decades—-from 1969 to 2005. One of his final postings at the LASD was as Chief of the Custody Division, making him familiar with—among other things— the difficulties of running the country’s largest jail system.

Scott will attend his first LASD executive staff meeting on Wednesday at department headquarters.

The Orange County Sheriff’s Department had its own kind of challenges when Hutchens lured Scott out of retirement to help her clean up the mess left behind by the federally indicted former Sheriff Michael Carona. (Hutchens was appointed in 2008 to finish out Carona’s term after he was arrested.)

Scott told the Supes he will go back to his OC job after he finishes his tenure in LA County this coming December when a new sheriff will be sworn in. Hutchins has said she is holding the job open for Scott.

“The fact that Scott had a place to go back to had a big appeal,” said a county insider of the supervisors’ choice. It meant, said the source, that that Scott wasn’t angling to run for LA sheriff himself. “It also solved the problem of, ‘How do you get an A-lister for the short term?’”

According to another well-placed source, additional selling points for the board members include the fact that, due to his decades in LA, Scott has a working knowledge of the embattled LASD, without being caught up in all the factions and intrigue to which many insiders are subject. And yet, “he knows where a lot of the bodies are buried,” said the source.

When Sheriff Lee Baca announced his retirement on January 7 of this year, he named Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald as his pick for interim sheriff—a choice that some of the Supes embraced more than others did, although all seem very pleased with McDonalds work as head of the department’s long-beleaguered custody division. The possibility of her stepping in to run the entire department was nixed when attorneys from the county counsel’s office said that McDonald did not have the proper certification to run the whole department.

McDonald came to the LASD from her position as undersecretary for operations California Department of Corrections starting her career a quarter century earlier as a corrections officer, making her an appealing choice to run LA County’s scandal-racked jail system—yet not, thought some, an ideal fit for the department-wide job.

Scott, in contrast, explained to the supervisors how involved he had been in in helping Sheriff Hutchens implement her five point action plan to reform the OC department.

The plan’s outline ends this way:

The ultimate goal of law enforcement in America is to reduce crime by honoring every aspect of American law. This includes the Constitution of the United States, the Bill of Rights, Civil Rights, and Human Rights. The foundation of any law enforcement agency must be built on the public trust.

The Supes approved Scott by a vote of 4-0 (with Mark Ridley Thomas abstaining).

At the Tuesday afternoon press conference where he was introduced, Scott told the crowd of reporters and onlookers that he was returning to the department “I love.” He also assured those listening that he would not be “a placeholder.”

“I will begin the process, immediately, of restoring both the dignity to the men and women of L.A. County and the confidence and the trust of the public that they serve,” Scott said.

On Thursday at noon, Lee Baca will leave the office he has held for 15 years and the department he has served for 48.

When Scott left the LASD in 2005, he did so in part, according to our sources, because of a dissatisfaction with the some of those to whom he felt Sheriff Baca was ceding too much power.


HE’S THE SHERIFF, NOT THE “INTERIM” SHERIFF

LA Times editorial board member, Rob Greene, opines interestingly that the Supes pick, John Scott, is a great combination of LASD insider and outsider.

Here’s a clip:

The Board of Supervisors could have picked an insider to succeed Lee Baca and serve as Los Angeles County sheriff for the next 10 months. A top deputy would have given the Sheriff’s Department someone already acquainted with the policies and pecking orders that give the place its culture, and with the people who patrol the streets and the jails. But that’s just the point: Continuity isn’t always a plus. The department needed an unmistakable break from its past, so choosing an insider wouldn’t have been the best move.

So the board could have gone with an outsider, a person from another law enforcement or corrections agency with a solid resume of experience untainted by any time in Baca’s department. But that would have meant a person trying to fix, or even just run, the department without much knowledge of its particular assets and problems. Such a sheriff might have had trouble gaining support or even respect from either internal would-be reformers or old-school foot-draggers, all of whom would have recognized that their boss was a short-termer who would be gone by Dec. 5, when the newly elected sheriff is sworn in.

In picking Orange County Undersheriff John Scott, the board went with someone who’s got a foot in each camp…..

Posted in LASD, Los Angeles County, Sheriff Lee Baca | 27 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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