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YouthBuild, the “Holloway Doctrine,” and ICE Modifies How It Issues Detainer Requests in CA

September 21st, 2015 by Taylor Walker


In California’s San Joaquin County and across the nation, the YouthBuild program teaches construction skills to struggling teens while helping them obtain their high school diplomas or GEDs.

The alternative education program lasts for six months to two years and serves 16 to 24-year-olds who are aging out of foster care, have had contact with the juvenile justice system, or are otherwise at risk of dropping out. YouthBuild also connects teens and young adults with contractors and apprentice programs upon their graduation from the program.

Last month, six YouthBuilds in California received a portion of $76 million in funding from the US Labor Department. The $1.1 million allocated to San Joaquin’s YouthBuild will cover the cost of 80 students for two years, plus a year of assistance after graduation.

The Stockton Record’s Reed Fujii has more on YouthBuild and how it shifts struggling kids’ trajectories. Here’s a clip:

Roosevelt Webb lost his way after his father died.

He had dropped out of school as a senior at Edison High in Stockton to help take care of his dad and, at age 21 and with no diploma, he said, “I didn’t know what to do.”

Another Stocktonian, James Vong, said as a teenager he had no guidance, no father figure, and growing up on the city’s gritty streets, found himself falling into drugs and the gang life.

But both have found a new direction through San Joaquin County’s YouthBuild program, an alternative educational program that emphasizes building-trades skills as well as academic school standards.

Webb, now 24, works for the San Joaquin County Office of Education, helping supervise YouthBuild teams on construction sites.

And Vong, 20, is enrolled in the program and was working on an affordable housing project in south Stockton as part of Webb’s team.

“Ever since attending YouthBuild, I made a 360 degree flip,” he said of his life. “Now I’m working at Habitat (for Humanity’s Dream Creek project), doing what I love.”


Despite increased federal efforts to lower prison populations by releasing non-violent drug offenders, President Barack Obama ranks among the ten least merciful presidents of the United States, having granted only 153 pardons, commutations, remissions, and respites, thus far.

Recent releases of two men serving excessively high and outdated sentences (often for drugs) have brought attention to another less-used method of leniency. The two men, Francois Holloway and Luis Anthony Rivera have successfully petitioned judges to reduce their old, disproportionately harsh sentences. The original prosecutors had to consent to the judges’ decisions.

Advocates and legal experts believe that if federal prosecutors will agree not to oppose judges’ leniency, the appropriately named “Holloway Doctrine” has the potential to lead to the release of many more inmates serving sentences that would not be handed down today.

The LA Times’ Richard Serrano has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

Rivera and Holloway asked federal judges for leniency, something that happens frequently, and federal prosecutors agreed not to fight, which is rare.

The original sentencing judges agreed to take a fresh look at the punishments of the two men. Assured that both had turned their lives around, the judges and prosecutors agreed to vacate parts of their original convictions and reduce their sentences to “time already served.”

Legal experts predict the cases could open the door to similar requests by many more prisoners if federal prosecutors are willing to take the same approach elsewhere.

“That’s a pretty novel way to do things,” said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, a Washington-based advocacy group. “I’ve not run across a lot of people who ever get out that way, and we get letters every day from people wanting help.”

Mauer predicted that the Rivera and Holloway examples will prompt defense lawyers around the country to seek similar relief for clients and will give judges “a level of comfort” in agreeing.

“It’s always the courageous ones that go first,” he said.

Holloway’s case went to court last year in Brooklyn, where the top federal prosecutor at the time was U.S. Atty. Loretta Lynch, who is now attorney general. Lynch at first resisted his release, suggesting he seek a presidential commutation. But she ultimately agreed not to oppose his appeal.

The original sentencing judge, John Gleeson, a former prosecutor who had put Mafia boss John Gotti in prison, noted that Holloway had served more time for robbing three cars than “if he had committed first-degree murder.”

“Black men like Holloway have long been disproportionally subjected to the stacking of counts,” Gleeson said, referring to sentencing rules that he said forced him to sentence Holloway to 57 years in prison in 1996.

The judge applauded Lynch for consenting to the release.

“This is a significant case, and not just for Francois Holloway,” he said. “It demonstrates the difference between a Department of Prosecutions and a Department of Justice.”


In the face of law enforcement agencies’ widespread refusal to comply with federal requests to hold undocumented immigrants in jails for up to 48 hours, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) representatives say the department is trying to be more flexible and meet law enforcement groups in the middle.

Under the new system, ICE analysts in a SoCal office run data on arrests to determine who is high priority for deportation before issuing detainer requests. ICE still asks law enforcement to let them know when they are releasing someone facing deportation, but issues fewer detainer requests for low-level offenders.

The LA County Sheriff’s Department changed its stance from no compliance with ICE detainer requests to allowing ICE to interview incarcerated immigrants, but still refuses to keep immigrants locked up past their release dates.

The Associated Press has more ICE’s new methods and how law enforcement agencies are responding. Here’s a clip:

…immigration authorities have also narrowed their focus to people convicted of more serious crimes, and the number of so-called detainer requests — which aim to have jails hold inmates up to 48 hours for deportation officers to pick them up — dropped by 24 percent in the 2014 fiscal year from a year earlier.

At the same time, the number of people deported from the United States, not counting those apprehended on the border, fell 24 percent, federal statistics show.

Immigration authorities had begun issuing detainers based on electronic data after getting access to fingerprints from jail bookings under enhanced law enforcement information-sharing after the 2001 terrorist attacks.

ICE initially started the hub in suburban Southern California to streamline the process for the region, one of the key spots where detainers were used. Now, the Pacific Enforcement Response Center issues about 40 percent of all immigration detainers and requests for notification when inmates are being released, handling the task for much of the country on nights and weekends.

The office, which issued 6,800 detainers and notification requests between June and August, contains half a dozen computers that collect leads for potential deportees and spit out the results on a large printer. Analysts and agents then search for matches in databases for visa holders, naturalized citizens and border arrests to determine the immigration status of those booked into local jails.

In the last three months, detainers or notification requests were sent in 11 percent of the center’s cases. Others are typically sent to field agents for investigation and about half are set aside because the person is here legally or doesn’t have a serious criminal conviction to make them a priority for deportation under the program, which was revamped last year, ICE officials said.

Under the new approach, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s department lets immigration agents interview inmates who have detainers but won’t hold them beyond their release date. In Santa Clara County, officials still won’t honor detainers but are weighing whether to notify ICE about serious offenders, while authorities in San Francisco won’t do either despite public outcry after the shooting.

Posted in Education, Foster Care, immigration, juvenile justice | No Comments »

Does CA Have to Send So Many Foster Kids “Out-of-County?” by Daniel Heimpel

August 18th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

This story by Daniel Heimpel about a former foster child named Heather Matheson, is the first of a series of stories exploring the good and the harm done by a strategy called out-of-county placement that is used by the various county agencies in California’s foster care system. The story was co-produced by WitnessLA & the Chronicle of Social Change, of which Heimpel is the founder and executive director.


What is the cost/benefit ratio of putting foster children—who have already lost so much—into “out-of-county” placement?

by Daniel Heimpel

Heather, slight and precocious, made her Los Angeles County high school’s track team as a freshman.

It was a major feat, something to be proud of in the maelstrom of the 14 year-old’s life. Only months before, the county’s Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) had removed Heather from her home after a harrowing week of physical abuse and domestic violence.

After 15 months in what had been a promising foster-care placement near Taft High School, set in a pleasant part of the San Fernando Valley, things had started to fall apart. The department decided to move her in with relatives in neighboring Ventura County.

The only problem, one that seemed deceptively small in the context of her painful family history, was that she now had to take three buses to get to school, the only real support system she had left.

“Looking back on it,” Heather says, “it was this short period of time, but it was really stressful. It was a stressful year of life. I could have been going to school dances and football games, but I didn’t because the buses don’t run that late.”

In 2009, when Heather was put into what is called an out-of-county placement, California’s feudal foster care system was larger than it is today, with roughly 70,000 kids in the state’s care who had been removed from their parent’s custody and then placed with foster parents, in group homes or with extended family.

Yet, what hasn’t changed in the eight years since Heather began her foster care odyssey is the fact that 1 in 5 California foster youth will find themselves taken away from the county where they lived and placed in another county. At present, a total of 12,626—or 20 percent of all California children and youth in a foster care placement—live in a different county than the one that they previously called home.

The reasons why foster children and youth are forced to cross county lines so often boils down to conflicting goals within the system, simple geography, and the push and pull of housing costs.

One way to understand the out-of-county issue is to look at the different types of placements to which children are sent. In April, the Center for Social Services Research (CSSR) at the University of California, Berkeley, drawing data from California’s 58 counties, reported that there were 62,915 children in foster care, a number that has been steadily rising since a low point of around 55,000 in 2011. The main placement types for children are with kin, in privately run foster family agencies (FFA), in county-run foster homes and, finally, in group homes, which generally get the older and harder-to-place youth.

Data pulled from CSSR’s California Child Welfare Indicators Project shows that in 2015, 21 percent of kin (such as extended family members), 24 percent of FFA, 5 percent of county foster care and a whopping 36 percent of group home placements were out-of-county.

When it comes to kin—-the preferable foster care placement according to many child welfare leaders-—the reason why 21 percent of kids cross county borders has a lot to do with simple geography. If you live in L.A. County, but your aunt and uncle live in Ventura County, as was true for Heather, you’ll be placed in Ventura County since, all things being equal, that’s a better solution than asking you to live with strangers in L.A.

For children in FFA placements, the movement is, in part, due to the fact that privately run foster family agencies often span more than one county, and some of those counties do a better job at recruiting foster parents than others. So if the agency can’t find a child a foster home out of their list in one county, they’ll bounce them to a neighboring county.

When it comes to group homes, the cost of doing business is cheaper in suburban and exurban areas than the city centers where many high-needs youth come from. In addition, political pressure to reduce reliance on group homes has been felt most by the urban counties where anti-group home sentiment has taken deepest root. This means that in counties like Alameda and San Francisco, some group homes have been shuttered. As a result, the only place to send the kids who need to be in these higher-level placements is out of county.

The implications for children’s lives can range from the good, where foster youth are placed with family members who welcome and care about them, to the bad, where contact and eventual reunification with biological parents becomes strained by distance, and access to critical mental health services, and other services that the child needs, is often delayed or degraded, if ever delivered.

Carroll Schroeder, executive director of the California Alliance for Children and Family Services, sympathizes with the limited choices court officers and caseworkers often have to work with when placing foster kids.

“They have to make these kinds of Solomonic decisions all the time, and they have to do it at 4:00 p.m. on a Friday,” Schroeder said.


Heather’s case fell into the part good, part bad category.

Her journey began on March 5, 2007. That was the day that DCFS took the 13 year-old from her parents.

The official status review report submitted six months later to the county’s juvenile dependency court described the details of the situation. On that day, “and on numerous prior occasions, the child Heather Matheson’s mother, [redacted], and father, [redacted], have engaged in violent altercations in the presence of the child including father chasing mother in his vehicle… Additionally, father got the child involved in the parent’s arguments by requiring the child to call the mother on father’s behalf.”

What the report neglects to describe is the run-up to her removal. A week before Heather’s father chased her mother in the car, Heather showed up to John A. Sutter Middle School in Winnetka with bruises on her arms, prompting her teacher, who was also her track coach, to report child abuse to DCFS. When a social worker showed up at her parents’ door to investigate, Heather says she was too scared to say anything in front of her father, whom she remembers as being “short fused.”

After the social workers left, Heather’s father flew into a rage. Her mother, who was planning to move to Idaho with a new man, was not at the house.

“He wanted her to come over,” Heather says.

The girl’s father had a gun in his hand, and told Heather to call her mother.

“When I made a big deal that I didn’t want to do that, he hit me with the gun,” Heather says.

The blow knocked the 90-lb. 13 year old unconscious. When Heather came to, she made the call.

“I said, ‘I am scared, Dad has a gun and I don’t want to be there,’” Heather recalls saying.

But she got no help from her mom.

“If you want to live with him, you have to learn how to deal with him. It’s not my problem,” Heather recalls her mother saying.

Heather’s father then forced her into the car, leaving the gun on the dashboard. As he drove wildly from street to street looking for his wife at every motel he could find, Heather remembers watching the gun slide back and forth in front of her.

When the DCFS investigator who had visited Heather’s home days before showed up at school the next day for a scheduled interview with Heather, the frightened girl told the social worker the whole story. After hearing her out, the investigator told Heather she would have to take her to an emergency shelter. At this point Heather’s teacher, who was also in the room, broke in.

“I don’t want her to end up with strangers,” Heather recalls the woman saying. “My husband and I can take her in.”

Despite the teacher’s initial good will, the placement would not last.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care | 1 Comment »

WHO IS WATCHING OUT FOR ANGEL? The Shadowy Intersection of Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice – by Daniel Heimpel

April 12th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

On Tuesday, the California Senate Judiciary Committee will debate a bill to widen access to extended foster care benefits for probation-involved foster kids who have landed in the juvenile justice world because of untenable situations at home.

The wonderful and important story below written by Daniel Heimpel—and co-produced by WitnessLA & the Chronicle of Social Change— explains in deeply human terms why this bill is so essential.


A 20-year-old’s saga of abuse, incarceration and heartache illuminates the shadowy intersection of child welfare and juvenile justice.

by Daniel Heimpel

Like a picture in a magazine.

That’s how Angel’s mother Leah wanted their small townhouse in Pacifica, California, to look. Picture perfect.

Leah says that she got the idea of giving her 12-year-old daughter chores after Angel’s school sent home fliers describing the importance of teaching children how to “become successful adults.”

When her adolescent daughter failed to manage perfection—when Angel missed a task in her 16-point list of chores that ranged from cleaning the cat’s litter box to folding plastic grocery bags exactly four times over—Leah’s mood grew dark.

The punishments she meted out escalated from ridiculous, to humiliating, to grim.

“She would ground me from food,” Angel, says. “She would ground me from wearing normal clothes. I’d have to go to school in my pajamas. She would ground me from petting my cat. She would ground me from my room.”

Having given birth to Angel when she was herself just 16, Leah says that she didn’t ever learn how to be a parent. Then, when her own father died, and Angel was around 14, Leah stifled her grief with a mixture of alcohol and cocaine, which she admits affected her behavior.

Whatever the exact cause, when her daughter failed to maintain the order she was trying to bring to their home, Leah’s reactions were extreme. She would exile Angel to the communal laundry room of their housing complex. There, with the damp Pacific cold pushing in, cat vomit on the floor, the girl would be forced to sleep.

Worse still were the beatings. Sometimes, Angel says, her mother would hold her down, and use scissors to cut the clothes off her body.

One day when the girl was 15, the usual discord between Angel and her mother erupted. This time, however, the conflict took a direction that would set Angel adrift in the murky space between juvenile justice and foster care.

The row began in the evening over some dirt under the microwave that Angel had neglected to wipe up. This time Angel stormed out before the punishments could start.
When she came back, red-faced from climbing the hill to their home, her mother accused her of being drunk.

“She confiscated my book bag saying she was going to look for drugs in it,” Angel says. With her book bag, Leah also took the homework that Angel had to turn in the next day.

Angel was famous for leaving everything until the last minute, says her grandmother, Wendy.

“Talk about a fuse lit and the bomb explodes,” Wendy says. “The situation became very volatile.”

Angel kicked Leah’s door, frantic to get the book bag back.

Leah burst out, and attempted to ground Angel from her room again. “She started taking my door off the hinges. I tried to stop her, and was met with punches and kicks so I backed away.”

Leah’s version is different. Instead of demanding her schoolwork, Leah says that her daughter threatened her.

“’I don’t fantasize about drugs or sex,’” Leah remembers Angel saying, “’I fantasize about ways to kill you.’”

Both Angel and Leah agree about the way the fight ended. “I copped out and called the cops,” Leah says.

An hour later, two male police officers appeared at the front door. Angel told them that she was the victim, and tried to show them the hot red welts on her arms and legs from where her mother had hit her. “They averted their eyes so quickly,” Angel says, “as if they wanted to pretend I had never said anything.”

The cops took Angel to the Pacifica police station. From there, she was moved to San Mateo County “Youth Services Center,” a juvenile hall in Belmont, where she spent two-and-half months. Finally, Angel says, her attorney told her that if she took a plea deal, she would be released faster than if she waited around for trial. She pleaded guilty to charges of vandalism and battery and spent the next five months across the street in the Margaret J. Kemp Camp for girls.

When the five months were up, no one was sure where to send the girl. Leah admits that child protective services had investigated her because of reports of abuse and neglect filed by neighbors and Angel’s estranged father over the years, starting when Angel was a baby and Leah was still in her teens. Why child services never removed Angel from Leah’s care earlier is not clear. But when her relationship with her mother failed, and she was released from camp, it was probation’s turn to act as a parent.

And so it was that, in 2010, Angel became one of roughly 4,000 California children who to this day enter the juvenile justice system and are kept in group homes because they have nowhere to go or cannot be safely returned home to serve out the terms of their probation.


California’s probation system is one of a number across the country that use federal foster care funds to take care of kids like Angel who enter juvenile justice but have no safe home to serve out their probation terms, so are placed in group homes. With the federal dollars come strings, along with memorandums of understanding spelling out for all 58 counties that their juvenile probation departments must provide case management like the foster care system would.

But probation isn’t foster care. It is a law enforcement agency, which means its go-to method for eliciting compliance from kids is often its power of arrest, a tactic that runs contrary to the goals of healing children from the emotional abuse that got so many of them caught up with the law in the first place.

Then there is the matter of what to do when this distinct subset of vulnerable probation youth reach age 18.

In the foster care system, it has long been recognized that to cut all aid at age 18 was to invite poor outcomes with disproportionately high numbers of foster youth experiencing homelessness, incarceration and diminished educational opportunity. When it comes to children who have had the double blow of experiencing foster care and the juvenile justice system, a famous 2011 study out of Los Angeles tracking these so-called “crossover youth” showed that their transitions into adulthood can be twice as perilous.

With the outcomes of foster youth in mind, in 2010 the California legislature passed Assembly Bill 12, which extended foster care benefits from age 18 to 21. In 2012, California began implementing AB 12, and kids like Angel, who entered foster care through probation’s door, were eligible.

While Angel describes her encounters with juvenile justice as painful and providing little discernible therapeutic value, they did afford her the opportunity for support past age 18.

“These young people are fleeing abuse and neglect,” says Amy Lemley, the policy director of the John Burton Foundation, and a leading advocate behind AB 12. “ They [probation foster youth] probably did something as a direct result of being maltreated, and that resulted in them entering the juvenile justice system. We have a secondary system for kids that act out because they were abused.”

While far from ideal, that “secondary system” provides a unique escape, unavailable in most states.

“In other places, the juvenile justice system is completely distinct,” Lemley says. “She [Angel] would have been shuttled into the criminal justice system and not be eligible for extended foster care.”

Pending legislation here in California could open up eligibility for extended foster care to even more young people who were involved in the probation system.

But advocates maintain that this is not a simple policy fix. Across the state, county probation departments are grappling with how best to help these emerging adults who are often suffering the long-term effects of childhoods riddled with traumatic events, including having spent large parts of their younger days in juvenile halls, camps or probation-run group homes.


Shortly before Angel’s 16th birthday, the juvenile probation department in San Mateo County released her to the custody of her grandmother, who had finally agreed to take her. While this new living situation was far preferable to returning Angel to her mother, it was less than ideal.

Angel’s grandmother, Wendy, had always been an anxious and at times oblivious woman. (She confesses, for example, that she had no idea that her stepson had been sexually abusing Leah when she was a child.) With Angel sleeping on a couch in her cramped South San Francisco apartment, Wendy tried to set the “boundaries” in a sort of delayed atonement for her failings as a mother to Leah.

“She worried about my safety excessively and didn’t want me to end up like my mother: a teenage parent on drugs,” Angel says.

Angel admits she wasn’t an easy kid to handle. “I came to her after suffering years of trauma,” she says. “I was struggling to cope and I had a tremendous amount of repressed anger.”

Wendy’s efforts to keep the rebellious teenager in check, along with the terms of Angel’s probation, which included strict curfews, came to a head one night in January of 2013. Wendy had been up the whole of the previous night, sewing a Victorian-era styled dress for Angel to wear at a dance the following evening. Angel and her grandmother had bonded over tales of English aristocracy and stories of Wendy’s grandmother, who had been educated in London and spoke the “Queen’s English.”

“It was part of the family mythology we liked to connect with,” Wendy says.

But the sleepless night of sewing, along with the strain of a recent invasive medical procedure to remove varicose veins, caused Wendy’s temper to flare and the two fought. The rupture lasted for weeks. By March, Wendy says that Angel was increasingly elusive, staying away nights at a time. Finally one night, a worried Wendy remembers driving to the South San Francisco Police station with an 8.5 x 11 inch photo of Angel’s face, and pleading with police to find her granddaughter.

When the police did find Angel near a San Bruno shopping mall a few hours later, she was scared of being locked up again and gave the cops a fake name. Angel pleaded guilty to giving false identification to a police officer and was soon whisked back to San Mateo County juvenile hall, where she remained for the next two-and-a-half months.

“I thought it was very unfair,” Angel says. “I hadn’t done anything wrong, but was being treated like a criminal.”

When it was time for her release from San Mateo Juvenile Hall, Angel’s grandmother would no longer take her in, and her mother’s home still wasn’t a legal option. Thus county probation “placed” her in a group home on the grounds of the juvenile hall.

The group home, called the Excell Readiness Center, was in reality a flimsy prefab structure, where four boys and four girls were crammed into four tight bedrooms. Angel would spend the next 10 months there. She was due for release when she turned 18.

Weeks from her birthday, Angel met with her probation officer who gave her a cursory description of the extended foster care benefits available to her. According to Angel, it was one of only a handful of times she met with her P.O.

Days after the meeting, a dryer in Angel’s group home caught on fire.

“Smoke was pouring into my room from the hallway,” Angel says. “My entire room was full of it.”

As she and her trailer mates were evacuated, she remembered that one of the boys had once threatened to set the place on fire. “He actually did it,” Angel says.

After a long and cold night spent in one of the group home vans, the kids who had been consigned to the trailer were moved to the “receiving home” down the street where children removed from their homes because of safety concerns were kept until they could be placed in foster care. “Our clothes and hair still smelled of smoke when they woke us up,” Angel says.

Vernon Brown, the CEO of Aspiranet a large youth service provider that ran the readiness center until 2014, says that most of the kids were moved back to the structure within a couple of weeks.

But for Angel, the fire meant leaving probation’s care prematurely and going back to live with her grandmother prior to her 18th birthday. Wendy agreed to take her granddaughter back, under the condition that it would only be for a few weeks.

Once those weeks were up, as is the case for so many other probation-involved foster youth, the only thing certain in Angel’s life was uncertainty. She was not terribly clear about how to get the extended benefits her probation officer had outlined only briefly. And the idea of putting herself back into the county’s hands made her anxious.

So Angel struck out on her own.


In October of 2010, the year AB 12 was passed, 391 youth between age 18 and 20 were supervised by probation in group homes, according to data compiled by the Center for Social Services Research at UC Berkeley’s School of Social Welfare. By January of this year, the new law was showing impressive results. The number of 18 to 20-year-old probation youth had exploded by almost 400 percent to 1,485 young people.

But advocates contend that significant numbers of probation-involved foster youth are still being excluded from AB 12, so are pushing for new legislation to open access to kids who share similar experiences with Angel.

Among those young people still slipping between the cracks are those who have spent large stretches of time in the county’s care but are, by happenstance, released from probation group homes to the custody of a relative before they turn 18.

“They forget that the youth ever came from child welfare,” says Jennifer Rodriguez, executive director the Youth Law Center, and a central player behind a series of legislative pushes to improve AB 12 for probation-involved foster youth. “Sometimes the probation department is releasing them right back to the parent who child welfare removed them from. All the problems that initiated the child welfare referral still remain and are not resolved.”

Another group presently excluded are the otherwise AB 12 eligible kids who, for one reason or another, find themselves in a locked juvenile facility on their 18th birthday, at which point any extended benefits suddenly vanish.

In October of last year, The Chronicle of Social Change published a story following the lives of three brothers who had all been in foster care.

The youngest, Joseph Bakhit, was AB 12 eligible and is using the extended benefits to help him pursue a degree at UC Berkeley. The oldest, Matthew, was excluded because he was already 21 when the law was implemented. Terrick, the middle brother, was denied AB 12 benefits because he was locked up in San Diego County’s Camp Barrett on his 18th birthday. If he had been released to a group home the day before, or if the judge had written him an all-important “placement order,” he would have been eligible.

Without the benefits, Terrick has struggled to succeed, the most stable employment he has had was selling knives for Cutco.

State Senator Jim Beall, who had been one of the lead legislative proponents behind AB 12, was moved by the story of the Bakhit brothers, and the efforts of advocacy groups like the Youth Law Center, to introduce legislation that would expand extended foster care eligibility for probation-involved foster youth.

“When you take away benefits, it is telling the kid, ‘You’re not going to college,’” Beall says. “I fail to see the logic of taking away the benefits. We’re going to fix that. That is the intent of [Senate Bill] 12.”

SB 12, which will be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 14, would also open up eligibility for a class of kids who, like Angel, had nowhere to go when the terms of their probation were up. But, while Angel was legally “placed” with grandmother Wendy, making her magically eligible, some are simply sent to live with a relative or other caretaker without a placement order, leaving them ineligible for the important three years of extended foster care benefits.

But the proposed legislation has powerful opponents, such as county probation department officials from up and down the state who say they are already struggling to deal with the influx of AB 12-eligible foster youth, so are opposed to widening the door for still more young people.

“We are having difficulty serving the foster youth we do have,” says Rosemary McCool, deputy director of the Chief Probation Officers of California (CPOC). “The current programs, in our view, aren’t sufficiently funded. We shouldn’t be expanding the population by any amount.”


As Beall and others battle with the CPOC over whether or not to fix the policy barriers for excluded crossover and probation youth, the big question affecting young people now in the system is this: Are probation departments equipped to effectively stand in for parents during AB 12 kids’ fitful transitions into adulthood?

California is a vast and diverse state, and some counties deal with the fates of their 18-year-old charges better than others. Contra Costa County is among those still struggling, according to an attorney with intimate knowledge of the county’s system.

Virginia Corrigan is both a deputy public defender in Contra Costa County and a lawyer working for the Youth Law Center through a fellowship offered by Baker & McKenzie LLP and Intel. As a P.D., Corrigan carries a caseload of more than 30 Contra Costa probation youth who are AB 12 eligible.

She says that while the county is good at getting kids into AB 12, probation lacks the institutional knowledge to effectively deal with housing and other critical services once the kids are in the system.

“Sometimes supervision of this population is foreign to probation,” Corrigan says.

The matter became clear to Corrigan on her very first case in 2013, when she spent weeks helping her young client fill out forms for housing services, and explaining how AB 12 worked.

“It ends up being a replacement for what a social worker would be doing,” she says. “My primary goal should be advocating for them in court,” not helping them with paperwork to get them a place to live.

Across the Bay in San Francisco, the county’s juvenile probation system is far more proactive. Instead of relying on its probation officers to handle the casework for AB 12-eligible probation youth, the department added two new social workers dedicated exclusively to working with that population. The workers were assigned to the Juvenile Collaborative Re-Entry Unit (JCRU), which was already helping the county’s probation youth as they transition back into their communities.

“We were very aware of the conflict of having probation officers supervise those youth,” says Allison Magee, the executive director of the San Francisco-based Zellerbach Family Foundation, who, while serving as deputy director of the city’s Juvenile Probation Department in 2012, came up with the idea of hiring social workers for AB 12 kids. “It frankly is confusing to both the child and the P.O., as the P.O. has mandated responsibilities that would become very blurry.”

Allen Nance, chief of San Francisco’s Probation Department, also considers the strategy important. “Unlike other departments across the state, we are one of the few, if not the only, that has chosen to staff these caseloads with social workers instead of probation officers.”

Rebecca Marcus is a San Francisco juvenile public defender with 24 current AB 12 kids on her caseload. Marcus sees AB 12 as a lifeline for young people who have few options when released from probation without a safe place to call home.

“I have had two kids within the past year who were AB 12 eligible, whose high school graduations I attended, who didn’t take advantage of the program and who were both killed in San Francisco,” she says.

The latest death, which occurred just a month ago in March, has clearly shaken the fast-talking public defender.

“AB 12 is a tool to help young people relocate out of wherever they live,” she says, pointing out that oftentimes these youngsters return to the same dangerous neighborhoods that led them into the system in the first place. This was the case, she says, with her 19-year-old client. “He had the ability through AB 12 to relocate. He did not, and was murdered in the middle of the day.”

Polina Abramson is one of San Francisco’s two AB 12 social workers who work to keep kids caught in risky personal circumstances in extended foster care. She says she has 19 such cases, five of which are “unfunded,” meaning that the young people are not meeting all of AB 12’s eligibility requirements. Her counterpart, Heather Bruemmer, has a caseload of 22.

In addition to that list, there are other kids who are eligible, says Abramson, but didn’t opt in immediately, thus winnowing down the three short years of benefits that AB 12 offers.

Abramson says she understands why 18-year-olds often want to strike out on their own, especially those whose last residence was a probation group home. But, she notes, they often come back.

“There’s a lot of responsibility that goes into surviving in the real world,” Abramson says. “Kids realize that they could actually benefit from having someone in their life and have support.”

When they do, Abramson and Newell are there to catch them. And P.D. Marcus is more than ready to make their case in court.

In Angel’s San Mateo County, the juvenile probation department says that there are only three probation youth accessing AB 12. Angel now wants to be the fourth.


It is just after 6:00 pm on Friday, March 27, and Angel is already an hour late for her meeting. She passes happy clusters of other young people, relieved to be taking their first breaths of the weekend on a cool spring evening in downtown Oakland.

Angel too is feeling happy. It is her 20th birthday, and it has already been a good day. She and grandma Wendy spent the afternoon together. The highlight: sharing high tea, English style, a nod to their mythologized aristocratic ancestor.

Angel chose not to see her mother today. In the five years of their separation, Leah has made a number of unsuccessful efforts to repair their relationship, like showing up unannounced on Angel’s 18th birthday, which frightened the newly minted adult, rather than delighting her. Other attempts by Leah to give her daughter gifts have resulted in Angel recoiling.

“My mother says that Angel treats every gift like a rattlesnake that is going to bite her,” Leah says when called for an interview on Angel’s 20th birthday.

Arriving slightly flushed at the eleventh floor offices of the California Youth Connection, Angel is greeted by six former foster youth and two staffers sitting around some tables pushed together for the weekly policy-intern meeting. They are there to discuss how education policy is effecting foster youth, but when Angel walks in they immediately begin singing “Happy Birthday.”

As it happens, Angel has something else to celebrate. Just the day before, she handed in paperwork to a San Mateo social worker that should allow her to opt back into AB 12. Since her 18th birthday, Angel has spent most of the past two years at a transitional housing program available to young people at risk of homelessness.

But Angel has often coped with less stable circumstances, couch surfing with acquaintances, even spending one difficult night warming herself next to a generator in a South San Francisco park.

Angel hopes for at least a period of real stability while she works to advance at San Francisco City College. But for now, riding high on her birthday, she dreams of visiting England and the manor where the popular PBS show “Downton Abbey” is shot.

If yesterday’s paperwork is approved, the “second system” that handles cases like hers will provide her with a residence and other benefits, at least until her next birthday.

Daniel Heimpel is the founder of Fostering Media Connections and the publisher of The Chronicle of Social Change.

WitnessLA and the Chronicle of Social Change collaborated in producing this story.

The story was made possible through the support of the Sierra Health Foundation,which has partnered with the California Endowment and the California Wellness Foundation to launch the Positive Youth Justice Initiative to reform the juvenile justice system in four California counties.

All photos (except for the family photo of Angel and her mother) are by the excellent Max Whittaker, a freelance photojournalist and founding member of Prime.

CORRECTION: We wrote Heather Bruemmer’s name inaccurately in the original draft of this story, but it has now been corrected.

Posted in Foster Care, Homelessness, juvenile justice, Juvenile Probation | No Comments »

How Santa Clara’s James Ranch Became a CA Model for Helping Incarcerated Kids

March 11th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

EDITOR’S NOTE: For the past two weeks, we’ve published stories from the series by John Kelly for the Chronicle of Social Change. The series—in which WitnessLA is collaborating—is taking a close look at programs that use a strategy known as Positive Youth Justice to help kids who have come in contact with the juvenile justice system.

First we ran a story that explored an Oakland, CA, program that uses a process called community conferencing, which asks lawbreaking kids to confront the effects of their crime.

Then last week, the series looked at a program in Tarrant County, Texas, that has been successful in helping reboot the lives of kids who, two decades ago, would have been sent to a state-run juvenile lock-up.

Today, we’ll look at Santa Clara County’s James Ranch.

This story was produced as a collaborative project with The Chronicle of Social Change.


by John Kelly

There are few issues in juvenile justice more hotly debated than the appropriate use of incarceration—which youth can be served and rehabilitated in the community, and which youth need to be confined?

In general, the number of youths incarcerated in America is down. Way down. A report released in 2013 by the Annie E. Casey Foundation charted a decline from 107,500 confined juveniles in 1997 to 71,000 in 2010.

“This decline has not led to a surge in juvenile crime,” the report made clear. “On the contrary, crime has fallen sharply even as juvenile justice systems have locked up fewer delinquent youth.”

Yet relatively few of the hundreds of facilities that house juveniles in America have embraced a positive youth development (PYD) approach to engaging and strengthening juveniles while they are locked up. One of the unique programs that does is Santa Clara County’s William F. James Ranch.

When the ranch first opened half a century, its model was based primarily on tight behavior control. Then 2005, the facility reinvented itself using a PYD framework built heavily on strong prosocial interaction between its staff and its wards. The drastic changes to its programs and employees have resulted in far fewer incidents at the facility and lower recidivism rates after ranch residents return to the community.


Since 1956, the James Ranch has served as Santa Clara County’s placement option for older, violent offenders. It is operated by the juvenile division of the county’s probation department, which also oversees a massive juvenile hall that includes detention and incarceration beds.

In the early 2000s, violent incidents and escape attempts at the ranch were commonplace.

“When I first started with the old [ranch] program, the training was about safety and security: how to keep yourself safe, how to keep the kids safe,” recalls Santa Clara Probation Manager Anne Elwart, who started as a guard and went on to direct the ranch.

Just fewer than 100 youths were held at the ranch at any time, and they were guarded by a relatively small group of line staff trained only to keep the peace.

“We did the best that we could with what we had”, recalled Elwart. “Often, we were just watching.”

In 2004, the county hired Sheila Mitchell as chief probation officer. Mitchell came from neighboring Alameda County, where she was the deputy chief of probation, and prior to that had served as deputy commissioner of Georgia’s Department of Juvenile Justice.

Mitchell said her initial impression was that the ranch was little more than a way station for serious offenders.

“The kids would tell you they were just doing time,” she said. “You had two, even three kids a week trying to run away. The community was outraged, the county executive was outraged.”

An assessment of the ranch’s outcomes revealed that four out of 10 kids were failing the program and returning to incarceration.

“When we looked even closer, it wasn’t that they were failing as much as that the program was not designed for them to succeed,” Mitchell said.

Pushed by the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors for a plan that would cut her budget, in 2005 Mitchell instead asked the board for a proposed budget increase of $3 million. The funding would increase the number of staff at the ranch, and recalibrate its program around a PYD framework.

Although there was initial resistance, matters were helped slightly by the fact that some of the supervisors had been part of a 2003 Santa Clara delegation that visited juvenile facilities in Missouri, where the state Division of Youth Services (DYS) had become a national model for reframing juvenile incarceration.

The “Missouri model,” as it is called, requires the use of small, campus-style facilities with youth work professionals serving as the line staff. Youth are clustered into small, “family-style” groups.

That arrangement has helped Missouri’s Department of Youth Services maintain a recidivism rate below 10 percent among the juveniles released from their facilities. In 2008, DYS won Harvard’s Innovations in American Government Award for its approach.

Back at Santa Clara, however, “there was interest, but no traction” on the idea of moving towards a California version of the Missouri’s model, Mitchell said—until she presented her $3 million proposal with a cost-savings pitch.

“I was able to give them a return on investment report,” Mitchell said.
“I argued that when you look at the failure rate now, it was going to save us money in the long range to invest in this program. They took a leap of faith, and decided to invest.”

And so it was that the Santa Clara Board of Supervisors approved $3 million to bring a PYD approach to the James Ranch. Elwart led the writing of a curriculum that would focus on what is known as aggression replacement training [for more on that click here], education and mentoring relationships, along with extensive training of the camp’s workforce.

The county also hired the Missouri Youth Services Institute to help with the design of the new service model. The institute had recently been founded by longtime DYS Director Mark Steward, and was working on similar assistance projects with Washington, D.C. and Louisiana.

Missouri operates eight very small facilities using its system, but that was not possible in Santa Clara, which to this day still has one barracks-style living unit.

Instead, Elwart had to corral the staff into doing a one-night, makeshift renovation of the unit before its reopening using rope and blankets to create the dorm-like settings prescribed by the Missouri model. The department eventually agreed to build actual walls into the unit. But then, facing a $1 million price tag for the project, it opted instead to spend $60,000 on the kind of partition walls used in many office buildings.

Yet, the partitions did the trick.


Elwart worked at the ranch for a total of 19 years, most recently as the director of the facility. She rotated to a new post in adult probation in late December and was succeeded by Jermaine Hardy, who rotated to the ranch from the juvenile services division of the probation department.

The facility employs six supervisors; 68 full-time line staff; six teachers and a small team of part-time staff devoted to mental health and substance abuse. The teachers are employees of the Santa Clara Unified School District.

Each member of the line staff must have a four-year degree. By comparison, the state of California requires its correctional officer candidates to produce a high school diploma or equivalent.

Staffers’ education continues when they are hired by Santa Clara County where, before a worker is allowed to work directly with youth, he or she will go through 80 hours of core training. For the first six months, they are trained on the correctional component of their job — “on how to be a good guard,” Elwart said.

After that each line staff receives 12 days of training on the core principles of the ranch program. This includes two full days of training on aggression replacement, motivational interviewing, and substance abuse counseling.


The key to the success of the ranch program, Elwart said, is the interaction between the line staff and the youth. The full-time line staff are responsible for one of the six living units, but they are also counselors assigned to help and mentor two offenders.

“We work out of a 1958 building with pivot walls, so it’s not the building,” she said. The magic is in the interactions.

“We don’t sit there and do shaming and blaming. These staff build rapport and actually work with [the youth]. That’s the secret sauce.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in juvenile justice, Positive Youth Justice | No Comments »

Formerly Locked-Up LA Youth Tell How to Build a Better Juvenile Justice System

February 6th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


Los Angeles County is at a critical stage in reforming its juvenile justice system, which is the largest in the nation. Juvenile crime is down, and more kids than in the past are being given probation for non-serious infractions, rather than being sent to locked facilities.

Yet, still nearly 1000 young people are spending their time daily in LA County’s 3 juvenile halls or in one of its 9 probation camps that are still in operation. (It has 14 total.)

Locking kids up is a costly matter. The average daily tab to house a youth in one of LA County’s camps is $329.61. If he or she stays in camp for six months, that’s over $60,000 to keep one teenager for one-half year—far in excess of what it would cost to send that same kid to a high priced private university.

Yet, the recidivism rate of kids coming out of the camps, according to probation’s own numbers, is 40 percent. Not an encouraging success rate. Moreover, some researchers claim that the return-customer percentage is really much higher.

Five years ago, things were spectacularly worse in the campswith conditions that were, frankly, unconscionable. But, due to nearly eight years of oversight by the Department of Justice, plus several big, bad lawsuits, there have been heartening improvements.

There is still a long way to go. Even Probation Chief Jerry Powers described the design of the probation camps, in a report to the LA County Board of Supervisors, as “creat[ing] an image of a jail-like environment.”

The good news is that there’s a scheme in the works, which many believe could usher in truly profound changes in the way LA treats its law-breaking young. Officials at LA County Probation, along with participants from a gaggle of other agencies, plus university researchers, policy makers and advocates— are in the midst of hammering out the finer details of a plan to build a new kind of probation camp, a $48 million pilot project that everyone hopes will become a model that can be replicated throughout LA County’s juvenile system—and, with luck, beyond that to the rest of the state, or maybe even the nation.

As we’ve reported in the past, the new pilot facility is to be built on the site of the now-closed Camp David Kilpatrick, the system’s oldest such facility, located in the rural hills above Malibu. The idea is to transform the run-down Kilpatrick—which, prior to teardown, resembled a group of dilapidated prison barracks——into a cluster of homelike cottages that sleep a maximum of 12. Thus both the structure and the programmatic strategy of the new facility will theoretically be designed to promote rehabilitation and healing, rather than simply behavior control, as has been too often the emphasis in the past.

But the details of this brand new programming strategy—which is slated to be called The LA Model—are, in many ways, still very fluid.

Part of the issue is the fact that the project is an unusually collaborative one, with planning committees that include juvenile justice advocates from various nonprofits, along with representatives from the LA County Office of Education (LACOE), the Department of Mental Health, the Los Angeles Arts Commission, the Juvenile Court Health Services, the Department of Public Works, researchers from UCLA and Cal State LA, and so on.

And in the end, it is LA County Probation’s project, and probation is, of course, overseen by the LA County Board of Supervisors, which holds the purse strings on the enterprise. Additionally, on anything regarding staffing, probation has to answer to its unions, which—naturally—want a say in the matter.

Getting this diverse array of people, agencies, and interests to agree has reportedly been challenging. As a consequence, although progress is being made, there have been repeated delays. As it stands now, the LA Model camp is set to be completed in late 2016 and open in January 2017.


With all of the aforementioned in mind, some of the researchers and policy advocates involved—namely a UCLA-affiliated research team working under Dr. Jorja leap (whose CV you can find here), along with policy analysts Michelle Newell and Angela Chung from the California branch of the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF-CA), decided everyone might benefit from the opinions of a very different group of advisors—specifically kids who have been locked up in the probation camps, thus have personal experience with the system.

And so it was that last spring Leap’s team, together with the CDF-CA policy analysts, coordinated a series of five focus groups with 48 teenagers and young adults, each of whom had spent time in LA County’s long-troubled camps. At every meeting, the participants were asked various versions of the same question: “How can Los Angeles County’s probation camps provide a more positive experience for youth?”

The focus groups were turned out to be quite productive. So the researchers and analysts decided to go a step further. They selected five young men and women from the groups and made them “policy fellows.” The idea was that the five would help take the material gained thus far from the focus groups, and distill it, and turn the youth-generated information into a policy brief.

The fellows—three males and two females—ranged in age from 18 to 27, and collectively had spent a total of 102 months—8.5 years—in LA County’s juvenile camps. Their names are Karla Fuentes-Quiroz, Raul Barreto, Ralphica Garnett, Daniel Bisuano and James Anderson.

“Too often we have policy briefs authored by people who don’t have any real world connection with the subject,” said Dr. Jorja Leap. Everyone was pleased that this time it was different.

After their selection, the five spent several months going to workshops to learn the nuts and bolts of research, analysis and policy writing. Then they were mentored by CDF-CA’s juvenile justice policy team through the process of conceiving and writing a brief that outlined a five priorities that the youth fellows and their mentors concluded must be at the top of the list for the LA Model planners.

The completed 34-page brief—titled Rising up, Speaking Out: Youth Transforming Los angeles County’s Juvenile Justice System—was presented to the various Kilpatrick planning entities early this year, and reportedly was warmly received.

“The response has been overwhelming and positive,” said Leap. “There is tremendous support for the youth voices and how important these are in the process.”

Before we get to the details of the youth brief, however, it might be helpful to meet one of the fellows, Raul Barreto, whose backstory represents the kind of life experience that the five brought to the table.


When Raul Barreto was a pre-teen, a lot of the kids around him were joining street gangs, yet he did not. Like the other boys, he was curious about the gang world. But his over-stressed and distracted mother moved her eight children around far too often for him settle comfortably into any group—gangs included.

“My mom did her best. I love and admire her so much for that,” he said. “She always fed us. She washed our clothes. But she could never afford to stay in one place.” The frequent moving was compounded by the fact that there were no rules in the household. No boundaries, Raul said. No emphasis on school. No protective parental focus that helped her children feel secure and emotionally tethered.

It didn’t help that Raul had no dad around for most of his upbringing. When he was seven-years-old, his father vanished into prison.

In the father’s absence, Raul’s oldest brother became his role model, imparting to the younger boy the only gifts he had to give, which were primarily the ability to be tough, even when you didn’t feel tough, and instructions about how to get by on the street.

When Raul was in 8th grade, he put those lessons to work by attempting to form a clique of his own. When a boy from another clique “disrespected” Raul’s newly formed group, Raul did what he thought he had to do. He whacked the kid with a heavy chain, and was quickly arrested and charged with assault. And so it was that, at age 13, he was sentenced for nine months to an LA County probation camp.

“Basically, it was gladiator school,” said Raul of his first camp stay. The staff offered little help. “They didn’t do much more than herd people. They were essentially guards.”

Raul’s brother, who’d been to camp before him, told him how to navigate the place without being bullied. It was not honorable to back down, his older brother said, even if you got beat up, even if you got hurt badly. “There was a certain pride that I held in having never backed down,” Raul said.

Raul was sent to LA County camps a total of four times, although the last three stays were for probation violations, not for additional charges. Between camp stays, Barreto’s adored older brother, who was nineteen at the time, was arrested and sentenced to prison for more than 100 years.

The brother’s sentence slammed Barreto far more than his father’s exit had but, as with the camp fights, he took the blow with as much stoicism as he could muster.

His last stay in camp was at Camp David Gonzalez, then the system’s most progressive, volunteer-heavy facility, located in the hills off Malibu Canyon. There Barreto met a mentor who would change his life, a volunteer named Dan Seaver who ran the camp’s unique, kid-produced newspaper.

Seaver repeatedly told Raul that he was smart, and had potential, and urged him to take advantage of the camp’s various activities. “He talked to me about college. He talked to me about work. He talked to me about those and other things in a way that made them real for me,” he said.

During his stay at Gonzalez, Raul learned he had a knack for writing, and soon became the newspaper’s editor. While in camp, he also read like crazy. Fantasy was his favorite genre. “I read all the Harry Potter books, and a whole lot of others,” Raul said. “I wanted read the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but they didn’t have it in the camp library.” Reading was a way he could escape from being locked up” Raul said. “It also helped me become a better writer.”

Seaver’s mentorship at Gonzales didn’t magically solve all of Barreto’s problems. It took a couple additional incarcerations, this time as an adult. It also took knowing someone who, over time, refused to give up on him.

Fast forward to the present. Raul, now has a good job working for Martin Outdoor Media, the company that sells advertising on those green bus benches that bloom around the city. He has also done some crew work in the film industry and has plans to do more.

In his off time, he does advocacy work for an organization called Anti-recidivism Coalition—or ARC—through which he makes visits to the county’s probation camps to talk to kids who remind him of his younger self, telling them not to give up, that they can do it, that it’ll be okay.

And, now of course, there is his involvement with the policy fellowship.


In all, the youth fellows came up with five primary areas of change that they believed were most essential.

“These are very realistic recommendations,” said Michelle Newell of the Children’s Defense Fund who, like Leap, feels that the youth-informed policy brief has been well received.

“Things have gotten a lot a lot better in the camps,” continued Newell, But, in a lot of ways, she said, they were “still operating on a punitive incarceration model.”

Probation had worked to hit all the marks that the various big lawsuits, and the years of oversight by the DOJ have required, and that has helped, Newell said. “But compliance-based reactive change isn’t going to get us where we want to go.”

Hence the brief, the five primary points of which are the following:

1. Increase the availability and diversity of programs.

• Implement programs at all camps that are youth-centered and tailored individually for a youth’s strengths, skills and interests. Programs should be scheduled in ways that encourage youth participation, making efforts to address gaps in scheduling and ensure equal access across the camps.

• Provide camp programs that prepare young people to successfully transition back into their communities, such as higher education workshops, work and technical skill-building, and job search and interviewing workshops.

• Provide high quality education in probation camps, including utilizing the 300 minutes of instructional time for supportive and advanced curriculum, better textbooks and more avenues to establish stronger credit recovery. Continue to expand successful educational models such as Road to Success Academy, a project-based learning model that was piloted in the two girls’ camps and is currently being expanded.

• Expand partnerships with community-based organizations at all camps to provide a diverse array of programs for young people to develop pro-social skills and connections with mentors (e.g., Camp Gonzales, arguably the most resourced camp,12 has many such partnerships and can serve as a model).

2. Foster mentorship and supportive relationships with probation officers.

*Hire, invest in and retain probation staff who are not trained only as guards but rather who also want to work with youth and rehabilitate them. These efforts have already begun but need to be deepened; probation should reevaluate job descriptions and hiring practices to ensure the best staff is recruited and retained.

* Train and provide technical assistance for probation staff on all levels in trauma-informed approaches, positive youth development and other therapeutic approaches to communicating, managing and working with youth. Los Angeles County should invest in trainings such as those run by The National Child Traumatic Stress Network or other violence intervention programs that prevent re-victimization and train staff in the role trauma plays in brain development, adolescent development and behavior.

*Build a mission, culture and operations centered on positive approaches to safety and building relationships, moving away from correctional approaches that emphasize control and supervision.

• Foster activities, routines and spaces for probation staff and youth to engage in positive ways (e.g., in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, at the maximum security facility for youth who have committed serious and violent crimes run by the nonprofit Alternative Rehabilitation Communities (ARC), staff sit and eat with the young people at the dining table for all meals, creating a family feel).

• Establish a working schedule for probation staff that supports a small group treatment model and is consistent with relationship building20 (e.g., reevaluate the 56-hour staffing shift and determine whether a different schedule would allow for closer relationship building with youth).

3. Cultivate the dignity of youth at camp through increased privacy, cleanliness and nutrition.

• Provide access to healthier food, more food and better quality food. This includes providing more snacks, removing expired food and having equal access to seconds (i.e., not providing reward systems for youth to have seconds).

• Increase hygiene by providing youth with individual towels and soaps, better quality hygiene products, including feminine products, cleaner and nicer clothing, and better quality and cleaner bedding (e.g., Santa Clara County’s William F. James Enhanced Ranch provides each youth his or her own regular commercial hygiene products).

• Create physical layouts of camps that provide more privacy in bathrooms (for toilets and showers), as well as dorm rooms with less crowding, homelike furniture and better quality beds (e.g., The Missouri Model created homelike pods that fit 12 youth in one setting rather than 100 beds in one dorm with a single control center.

4. Increase connections with family and community.

• Provide regular visits (i.e., more than one a week) for families and include flexible times to accommodate families’ schedules (e.g., North Carolina state facilities provide visitation seven days a week, which helps youth build closer relationships with their families.)

• Provide access to transportation, given that most probation camps are in
remote locations where public transportation does not exist. This could be through transportation stipends, rides to camps or alternative meeting places where youth are transported closer to home for supervised visits (e.g., in Virginia, the Transportation Program provides low-cost transportation for family members who need it29). Sending youth to facilities in remote areas that are not accessible to families or community services also needs to be re-evaluated.

• Create alterative mediums for families to communicate with youth, such as Skype and video chat. Camps should consider home passes or “furloughs,” which are used in many model juvenile justice programs, including Santa Clara County, California, Missouri and ARC in Pennsylvania.

• Eliminate any practices that limit or remove visitation, phone calls or mail from family as punishment.

• Create physical spaces and procedures in camp that make families feel welcomed, valued, less intimidated and open to staff interaction.

• Expand the definition of family and allow visits from non-relatives; mentors, siblings under 18 years old and other loved ones play an important role in youth’s lives and should be allowed to visit.

5. Improve camp discipline and management procedures.

End regimented, boot camp-like camp procedures (e.g., marching with hands behind the back, sitting on bunks to be counted, and running to and from buildings) that demean youth and convey control and coercion.

• End punitive practices, including solitary confinement, use of force and pepper spray, and replace them with positive behavior support systems. Nationally recognized models demonstrate successful methodologies for crisis and safety management that are not deficit-based, such as Positive Youth Development, Trauma-Informed Care, New York State’s Sanctuary Model37 and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports.

• Adopt practices that let youth feel normal and valued, including recognizing normal adolescent developmental milestones — celebrating birthdays, acknowledging losses such as deaths, and recognizing accomplishments, such as graduations.

• Allow for personal space and freedom by developing camp routines and structures that allow for youth to experience a sense of calmness, privacy and reflection, which is critical to their development and the progress they make with their treatment.


Each of the five fellows wrote a personal introduction for one of the five categories. It is likely not a surprise that Raul was the person in charge of the chapter on relationships and mentoring.

As a part of the introduction to his section, Raul wrote the following:

“I was 13 my first time in camp and was sentenced to nine months. During those nine months I didn’t get counseling, I didn’t learn a trade or any new skills and, probably most importantly, I never made a connection with a positive adult or anyone I trusted who could give me life advice. I had myself and my peers. When I wasn’t worried about my peers doing something, I was worried about staff and vice versa. I learned to survive in so many unnecessary ways that are only useful in institutions.

“Every time I was released, I remained unguided and misinformed and, usually, I ended up recidivating. Luckily, I eventually broke that pattern. Many of the kids I met, fought with, laughed with and lived with throughout my many stays in juvenile detention are now dead, heavily drug addicted or serving life in prison.

“The difference between me and them is that during my last camp program, I met a volunteer who became my mentor, a person who until this very day will answer my call, listen to my problems and give me the best possible advice he can offer. I firmly believe it was this simple, consistent act that saved my life….

“And while my camp experience happened a lot longer ago than many other youth in the focus groups, the need for connection and mentorship continues to remain a problem for youth at camps today. My experience simply shows just how important it is when just one person makes a connection with a young person….”

Hard to argue with that.

Posted in juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, Probation | 1 Comment »

Blue is the New White: The Complexity of Talking About Police Reform – by Bill Boyarsky

January 21st, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


In his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, President Barak Obama said of the events of Ferguson and New York: “…Surely we can understand a father who fears his son can’t walk home without being harassed. Surely we can understand the wife who won’t rest until the police officer she married walks through the front door at the end of his shift.”

Let us hope so.

In Los Angeles as we talk about those issues, the worried father Obama mentioned is not necessarily African American. He is just as likely to be Latino. More likely, really.

And the police officers working patrol whose husbands and wives are fearful for their safety are widely diverse when it comes to race, ethnicity and gender.

So, yes, the conversation we need to have is, in part, about race—but it is also a lot more complicated than that.

In the story below—which originally appeared in TruthDig—columnist Bill Boyarsky explores the complexity of law enforcement reform with members of the Youth Justice Collation, civil rights attorney Connie Rice, journalist/author Joe Dominick and others.

In the end, Boyarsky admits he finds no quick answers. But he brings up some worthwhile questions.

Happy reading.


Why Talking About Law Enforcement Reform in LA is Not a Simple Matter

by Bill Boyarsky

This story originally ran in TruthDig, which has generously allowed WitnessLA to reproduce it in full.

“It’s not the person that fills the uniform, it’s what the uniform does to the person,” said Kim McGill, an organizer for the Youth Justice Coalition. “Blue is the new white.”

“We have to change the culture of law enforcement and create real community authority over police if we want to address system violence and transform the treatment of black and brown communities,” she added.

Or, as another Youth Justice Coalition member, Abraham Colunga, told me, “It’s cop versus black and brown, any minority. It’s more a matter of cop versus us, no matter what the cop is, black, brown, Filipino.”

I visited the coalition headquarters, at the western edge of South Los Angeles, in search of an answer to a question raised by the Los Angeles Police Department’s fatal shooting of Ezell Ford, 25, a mentally ill African-American, in a poor black and Latino neighborhood of South L.A. on Aug. 11.

He was killed two days after Michael Brown, a young black man, was shot to death by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., and a month after Eric Garner, another African-American man, died after a white New York cop subdued him with an illegal chokehold. Then, in Cleveland in November, a white officer shot and killed Tamir Rice, 12, who was holding a replica gun. The officer and another cop threw Rice’s 14-year-old sister to the ground, handcuffed her and forcibly put her into a patrol car when she ran to her fatally wounded brother’s aid.

But Ford’s death in Los Angeles did not follow the black-white narrative that has framed news coverage of these police shootings. One of the cops who shot Ford, Sharlton Wampler, is Asian-American. The other, Antonio Villegas, is Latino.

White law enforcers have been killing black men since slavery. A study by ProPublica, the investigative journalism organization, analyzed federal data from 2010 to 2012 and found that young black males were at a 21 times greater risk of being shot to death by police than young white men.

ProPublica’s black-white analysis, however, seemed incomplete for Los Angeles. Its multiethnic population—49.6 percent white, 48.5 percent Latino, 11.3 percent Asian, 9.6 percent black—is now policed by a multiethnic department. Latinos, numbering 3,547, are the largest ethnic group in the LAPD, followed by whites, 2,756, blacks, 861, and Asian Americans, 634.

The analysis by McGill, who is white, and Colunga, who is Latino, seemed more to the point.

The coalition, which knows what’s going on with the police and communities, was organized by youths of color who have been arrested, served time behind bars, subjected to stop and frisks and police abuse, and threatened with deportation. Coalition members have helped lobby local and state lawmakers to reform laws and to increase civilian supervision of the police. They also keep statistics on the number of people killed by police in Los Angeles County.

From their close contact with crime-heavy neighborhoods, they see that police shootings of young men go beyond the black-white way journalism frames the issue.

For example, McGill said a cause of the shootings is the war on gangs being waged by the Los Angeles Police Department and other agencies around the country.

Gang suppression cops, operating in neighborhoods prevalent with gangs, “treat all like criminals,” McGill said. “People are going to be roughed up and hurt.”

The two officers who killed Ford were members of a gang suppression detail operating in a high crime part of South Los Angeles, where four African-Americans and two Latinos have been slain by cops since 2000.

The victim was well known in the neighborhood. Brandy Brown, another member of the Youth Justice Coalition, lived in an apartment above where Ford was shot. Brown, who is African-American, told me that she and others around 65th Street and Broadway knew him as a pleasant, longtime resident who, as his teens turned into his 20s, became severely disturbed. He wandered through the neighborhood, cadging cigarettes and meals from people who had known him for years. Her mother occasionally fed him and let him use the shower. The two police officers, she said, should have known him too.

Brown was working in her kitchen when she heard the gunshots. She ran downstairs to where her 4-year-old nephew was playing and saw people gathered around Ford.

The autopsy report showed he was shot three times. One bullet hit him in the right side, another in the back and a third in the right arm. The wound in the back had a “muzzle imprint,” the autopsy report said, suggesting the shot was fired at close range.

Police said Ford was walking on 65th Street when the two officers got out of their car and tried to talk to him. Why they did this is unknown so far.

Police Chief Charlie Beck said Ford walked away. The two officers followed him to a nearby driveway. Ford, the chief said, crouched between a car and some bushes. When one of the officers reached toward Ford, Beck said, he grabbed the officer and forced him to the ground. The policeman shouted to his partner that Ford had his gun, Beck said. The partner fired two rounds, which hit Ford. The officer on the ground pulled out his backup weapon, reached around Ford and shot him in the back at close range.

Ford joined the long list of those who have been killed by the police in Los Angeles County, which contains 88 cities, Los Angeles being the largest by far.

The Los Angeles Times painstakingly reports all these deaths in its invaluable Homicide Report, which compiles and analyzes coroner’s figures. A total of 594 gunshot victims have died in officer-involved shootings from 2000 through 2014. Of these, 114 were white, 300 Latino, 159 black, and 16 Asian.

With African-Americans a much smaller part of the population, the black toll is disproportionately high. The Youth Justice Coalition reports a slightly higher total of deaths, probably because it supplements coroner’s reports with information gleaned from neighborhoods.
In any case, ethnic minorities comprise the largest number of victims by a huge number. David R. Ayon, senior strategist at Latino Decisions and senior fellow at the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University, said: “Latinos are underrepresented in a lot of positions of authority, but not when it comes to being shot by the police in Los Angeles.

“African-Americans are underrepresented in a lot of areas of society, but are overrepresented in being shot by the police. The group that is underrepresented [in police shootings] is whites.”

I talked to two criminal justice experts about the complex racial dimension to these police shootings.

Connie Rice is an attorney long active in civil rights who heads the Advancement Project, a national organization that fights for criminal justice reform and voting rights, among other issues. She was a leader in the reform of the Los Angeles Police Department after major scandals and the 1992 riots.

Rice said she found that police officers are more apt to shoot in violent crime areas. “Do I think the cops are too quick to shoot in South L.A.? Yes, I do. They give themselves permission to shoot in South L.A. where they don’t anywhere else.”

She added, “The biggest common denominator [in police shootings] is [neighborhood] income and class. It is compounded by race.”

Neighborhood figures compiled by the Los Angeles Times Homicide Report support this.

Some examples: The Florence neighborhood in South Los Angeles is listed by the report as the ninth most deadly area in Los Angeles. Nine blacks and four Latinos were shot and killed by police there between 2000 and 2014. The count was four blacks and two Latinos in impoverished South Central Los Angeles. In Boyle Heights, a poor Latino area, eight Latinos and one black died. But in middle-class Leimert Park, a largely black neighborhood, there were no police-caused shooting deaths in those 14 years.

Joe Domanick is a senior fellow at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s Center on Media, Crime and Justice and the author of “Blue: The Ruin and Redemption of the LAPD,” to be published by Simon & Schuster this summer.

Domanick also believes police attitudes in high crime areas influence behavior. “The explosion of guns and the lack of any kind of gun control make cops very edgy,” he said. He added, “I think there is also racism on the part of white, Asian and Latino cops that is endemic in our society, which doesn’t value black lives unless they are Denzel Washington.”

For those seeking quick answers, this column may leave you unsatisfied. Solutions glibly floated from New York and Ferguson have been tried to some extent in Los Angeles, a city that may be the picture of the nation’s urban future.

The police department has been integrated. Its all-white occupying army tactics in poor black and Latino areas were moderated after the riots and federal supervision. Bill Bratton, now New York police commissioner, and his successor, Beck, forced the cops to interact with communities, at least much more than in the past. “Charlie Beck did a superlative job in implementing community policing, especially in African-American communities and he built up a big stack of goodwill when he was chief of the South Bureau [covering South Los Angeles],” Domanick said. “He has continued that as police chief. He has deep relationships with people. They like him.”

Friday, Beck met with representatives of demonstrators who have been camping in front of police headquarters, demanding that he fire the cops who killed Ford. He didn’t do that, insisting that he has to follow department procedures on discipline. “It’s a first step,” Youth Justice Coalition’s McGill said. “It opened communications.”

Beck and other police chiefs and mayors can do more: Give communities more of a say in policing, which cops hate. Take every complaint seriously. Investigate police killings quickly and openly without relying on bureaucratic or legalistic barriers created to protect police officers. Let the community know what’s going on. And show respect to the residents. Be as polite to people in poor neighborhoods as the police are in more affluent neighborhoods that are nearly free of violent crime. Economic class shouldn’t determine whether you get an even chance with the law.

None of these small steps would make a headline or a mention on the Internet or in cable news. But they’re important in a country that is so racially divided and resistant to change.

Bill Boyarsky is a political correspondent for Truthdig, a lecturer in journalism at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Journalism, and a columnist for LA Observed.

Photo of LAPD academy graduation from LAPD Blog


If by some chance you haven’t been following the account of Billings, MT, police officer Grant Morrison who was involved in a fatal shooting in the Spring of 2014, this nuanced story by Zach Benoit of the Billings Gazette, shows the grief and self-doubt Morrison has struggled with since the shooting, which was recorded by a dashboard video.

A later widely-destributed video shows Morrison sobbing after the incident after realizing he had fatally shot an unarmed man.

Both videos make for harrowing viewing.

Morrison was cleared of all wrongdoing in the matter by a coroner’s jury after a two day inquest.

Posted in Charlie Beck, LAPD, LASD, law enforcement, Police, race, race and class, racial justice | 2 Comments »

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

December 12th, 2014 by Taylor Walker


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Use of restraints and isolation in juvenile facilities

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

- The number of pregnant juveniles held in custody

- The number of juveniles whose offenses occurred on school grounds


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Minute, REALLY Low Down Dirty LA Politics in the 64th Assembly District

November 4th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


Mud-slinging is an unpleasant fact of politics, particularly at the end of a hotly contested race.

But the form of loathsome mud that got thrown in the closing days of the 64th District Assembly race between Mike Gipson and newcomer Prophet Walker made even cynical campaign watchers blanch.

The worst of the mud came in the form of a campaign mailer that began landing in voters’ mailboxes on Friday, October 31.

The flyer depicted a photo of Gipson in a police uniform, next to highly photoshopped image of Walker holding a very large, very menacing gun, which is pointed at the observer. Courtesy of Photoshop Walker is also wearing a hoodie sweatshirt (which disconcertingly recalls the hoodie of Trayvon Martin hybrid with that of the evil emperor in the Star Wars series).

The 64th district is made up South Los Angeles, Compton, Carson and a slice of North Long Beach, cities that—particularly in the case of South LA and Compton—have neighborhoods that have been deeply scarred by gun violence. As a consequence, many district residents and others reacted to the flyer with fury.

In an editorial, the Los Angeles News Group called the mailer the “most egregious dirty campaign flier in a local race that members of this editorial board can recall in decades of experience…”

Hip Hop mogul Russell Simmons (@UncleRush) tweeted:

Since u follow me @mgipson2014, take my advice + apologize for despicable ad. This is very offensive to our community

Walker’s campaign called a press conference for Monday morning to protest the mailer. It was a well-attended gathering featuring angry appearances by community leaders and others, and lots of TV cameras.


Across the doctored photo in the offending flyer the Gipson campaign stamped the words CONVICTED FELON.

As it happens, Prophet Walker, 26, is a convicted felon.

He was born in Watts to a heroin-addicted mother who, when Walker was six-years old and his sister was four, left the two children in an apartment in the Nickerson Gardens housing projects and never came back for them.

Eventually the authorities discovered that the two little kids were alone in a projects apartment, social services were called in and, eventually, Walker and his sister went to live with their father, who was hardworking but overwhelmed.

By the time he was a teenager, Walker had somehow managed to steer clear of gangs, but he was a troubled, unhappy kid who did poorly in school and struggled with roiling emotions. By sixteen, in the course of riding the MTA with two other boys for two days straight, Walker and the other two got in fight with some other young men, one of whom Walker hit hard enough to fracture the guy’s jaw in several places before stealing the guy’s CD player.

Walker was caught, tried as an adult for the robbery and great bodily injury, and sentenced to six years in state prison. In California, teenagers with adult sentences stay in juvenile facilities until they turn eighteen. It was in Sylmar Juvenile Hall that Walker met film producer Scott Budnick, of the Hangover series. Budnick, among his other forms of criminal justice activism, taught writing to locked-up kids for the group Inside Out Writers. Budnick was impressed with Walker’s intelligence, but not his self pity, and told the unhappy young man he need to buck up and grab hold of his life.

The lecture took. After Walker was sent to state prison at Ironwood, he began to read, to study and, in the course of doing so, to find himself. Eventually, he a wrote to Budnick about an idea he had in which young prisoners could be evaluated for their potential and, when appropriate, shipped to lower security prisons where they could take college classes and ultimately earn a two-year degree.

Budnick went for it, and so did the state. Jerry Brown signed off on the program. Walker was in the first pilot group to be transferred.

When Walker was released from lock-up after five years and three months, he was 22-years old, had a two year degree, a surprising amount of charisma, and a strong sense of direction. He managed to get himself accepted into the engineering program at Loyola Marymount University then, before graduation, got hired by a respected Westside construction firm, Morley Builders. Suddenly, four years out of prison, he had a degree and a budding career.

But he wanted more than that.

While working his day job on large construction projects (he now is working for the Jordan Downs Redevelopment Project), Walker spent his spare time with low-income kids from the kind of violence-fraught neighborhoods he’d known, and helped found a program called Watts United Weekend, in which inner city kids are mentored at retreats outside the city. He also gave time to the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, a program of Budnick’s, where Walker talked to other former prisoners struggling to reboot their lives. Soon he was on the board of directors for Inside Out Writers.

Eventually, with strong encouragement from supporters like Budnick and others, Walker decided his next step in helping keep kids away from the kind of damaging paths he’d once walked, was to run for office. Out of a field of four candidates running for the newly opened District 64 assembly seat, he came in second in the primary with 21 percent of the vote, trailing Gipson, the mainstream candidate backed by a string of elected officials and unions, who cruised to any easy lead with 51 percent. It was presumed that Gipson, a three-time Carson city council member, former Maywood police officer, who was very politically connected, would win in the general election without much problem.

But, after a summer of knocking on doors in the district, Prophet Walker’s story had taken hold with residents and, for the first time in the race, Gipson had a serious challenger.

And Walker had attack ads aimed his direction.

He was accused, among other things, of being a tool of Hollywood and a deadbeat dad who paid no child support for his daughter, although his campaign has produced documents that he is fully up to date with child support, having fallen behind when he was in prison. (Walker managed to get a girl pregnant when he and she were both teenagers, before he assaulted the guy with the CD player. He now shares custody of 8-year-old Pryla, who has often been cheerily visible during the campaign.)

Finally there was the photoshopped gun and hoodie.


Although Gipson hasn’t talked to reporters about the photoshopped hit flyer, he did put forth an apology of a sort on his website in which, after saying that he was, in fact, the one who had endured attacks (although he gave no examples or specifics). Then three quarters of the way through the thing, he suggested that he allowed his “emotions to get the better of me..” and then so he…

“...allowed a volunteer to design and send out a mail piece to a small amount of voters in our district to set the record straight. I stand by the facts of the mail piece designed by this volunteer, as it was 100% factual, but in retrospect I realize that the volunteer’s graphic design elements went too far. This mail piece was not properly vetted by my entire campaign team, it was only one volunteer and myself, and for that I take responsibility for allowing something to go out with my name on it, that was 100% true, but included over-the-top visuals.

The Walker campaign felt a response was needed, as need a string of community members and angry supporters. Hence the Monday’s press conference, which featured people from Congressman Tony Cardenas, to community organizer, Najee Ali, to former state senator, Tom Hayden, to producer Norman Lear, to Homeboy Industry’s Hector Verdugo reading a note from Father Greg Boyle, and more.

“It is, in no uncertain terms,” wrote Boyle, “that I denounce here the photo-shopped travesty which was the flyer circulated by Mr. Gibson. it is beneath the dignity of the entire electorate of Los Angeles to see such a demonizing and reckless act in the name of ‘political business as usual.’”

The speakers were equally passionate.

“In a post Trayvon Martin society,” said Najee Ali, “it’s extremely disappointing to see a black candidate smear another black candidate with lies and stereotypes we are trying so desperately to overcome…. My story is similar to Mr. Walker’s story and many of the South Los Angeles residents who identify with the story of redemption and being given a second chance. There is only one way to stop people like Mike Gipson from committing this sort of despicable act and that’s to vote him out of office….

So, is he right? Should the creepy campaigning affect the actual election? Will it? And, if so, in what direction?

We’re about to find out.


Posted in 2014 election, Contemplating Crime & Consequence | 5 Comments »

Recommended Reading as We Head into Nov. 4 Elections: Education, Attorney General, County Supervisor, and Sheriff

November 3rd, 2014 by Taylor Walker


California’s race for Superintendent of Public Instruction is attracting a lot of attention, in part, because it has the potential to set a precedent for public education nationwide, but also because of the unusual amount of campaign money involved—over $20 million in contributions.

The race to oversee the state’s public schools, which rank 45th in the nation, has been pegged as “reformer versus union” sets education reform heavyweight Marshall Tuck against incumbent Tom Torlakson (who, along with the state, was slammed with a Temporary Restraining Order over Jefferson High School’s scheduling disaster, last month).

The NY Times’ Motoko Rich points out that the superintendent race has drawn a great deal of interest from outside the state because it represents a battle taking place at the national level. Here’s how it opens:

In California, one of just 13 states where the schools chief is an elected post, this year’s race is unusual: It seems to have drawn more attention from outside the state than inside, because it is seen as a proxy for the national debate over teacher tenure rules, charter schools and other education issues that have divided Democrats.

The contest for California superintendent of public instruction has attracted more than $20 million in campaign contributions, largely because it is viewed as a referendum on the future direction of policy in public schools. And with two Democrats — Tom Torlakson, the incumbent, and Marshall Tuck, the challenger — vying for the office, the race also reflects a national schism within the party.

On one side are those like Mr. Tuck, who say that teachers’ unions hold too much sway over the Democratic Party and that public education needs a more entrepreneurial approach. On the other are those like Mr. Torlakson, who say the proposed changes, which include the expansion of charter schools and greater use of test scores to evaluate teachers, amount to a corporate takeover of public schools.

The superintendent race is also the costliest in the state, with three times more campaign funding than the gubernatorial race.

Bloomberg’s Karen Weise has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

When the country’s most populous state heads to the polls for the midterm elections next week, big money won’t be riding on who will be California’s governor or represent it in Washington. Instead, a mountain of cash has focused on who will head the state’s Department of Education. Donors put $30 million into the race for state superintendent, three times more than in the gubernatorial campaigns, according to data compiled by EdSource.

And in an op-ed for national business magazine Forbes, former presidential appointee to the U.S. Dept. of Education, Dallas Lawrence, endorses Marshall Tuck, pointing out his triumphs as founder of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, which included bringing up graduation rates at struggling LAUSD schools by 60%. Here’s a clip:

The most hotly contested race in the Golden State will have no impact on who controls the U.S. House or Senate. It won’t impact the gubernatorial race and it certainly won’t alter the lopsided Democrat majorities in the California legislature. Nestled 61 pages into the 2014 California Voter guide is perhaps the most important campaign being waged in America today—a campaign to reform the state’s broken public school system and shake up the dysfunctional status quo that has fueled a race to the bottom for California’s public schools which now rank 45th in the nation. The campaign for California’s non-partisan Superintendent of Public Instruction is about much more than which Democrat (as both candidates are Democrats) will be elected the state’s chief school officer. It is, as a recent San Diego Union Tribune headline declared, a campaign pitting “reformer versus union” in an election with significant national implications.

The reformer is Marshall Tuck, a scrappy, roll-up-your-sleeves and get-to-work fixing our schools, kind of leader. Tuck served most recently as founding CEO of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, a groundbreaking collaboration with the Los Angeles Unified School District to operate 17 struggling public elementary, middle and high schools serving 15,000 historically underserved students. Under Tuck’s leadership, these schools increased four-year graduation rates by over 60% while improving school safety and student attendance. Over the last five years, the Partnership schools ranked first in academic improvement among school systems with more than 10,000 students.


KQED’s Scott Shafer has an interesting profile piece on California Attorney General Kamala Harris, including her battle against California’s truancy crisis and her efforts to be “smart on crime” rather than tough (or soft) on crime. Here’s how it opens:

California’s attorney general is often known as the state’s “top cop.” And to be sure, Kamala Harris has done her share of “law and order” press conferences announcing drug busts and gang takedowns.

But, as she heads into Tuesday’s election, Harris has clearly emphasized different priorities than her predecessors.

One of Harris’ new TV ads makes clear how different she is from previous attorneys general. The ad features a smiling Harris sitting around a classroom table with young schoolkids.

“If you’re chronically truant from elementary school, you are four times more likely to drop out and become a perpetrator or a victim of crime,” Harris says in the commercial. “That’s why we’re taking on the truancy crisis in the California Department of Justice.”

The ad ends with a smiling Harris high-fiving all the children. It is, Harris acknowledges, a distinctly different emphasis from the typical “lock ‘em up and throw away the key” approach to law enforcement.

“I think we have accepted a false choice, which suggests that one can either be soft on crime or tough on crime, instead of asking, ‘Are we smart on crime?’” Harris said this week. She compares law enforcement with public health — favoring prevention over treatment.

“If the sniffles (come) on, then it’s early intervention,” she says. “But if we’re dealing with it in the emergency room or the prison system, it’s much too late and it’s far too expensive.”

Harris has made reducing truancy a cornerstone of her job. Yet an A.G. has little direct impact over that. And Gov. Jerry Brown recently vetoed two anti-truancy bills she was pushing.

But Imperial County District Attorney Gilbert Otero, who heads the state association of DA’s, appreciates Harris using the bully pulpit on issues like truancy.

“Truancy is a big issue,” Otero said. “If the attorney general comes down and starts talking about something like that, then you know I’m all for it.”


If you’re looking for a way to decide between Sheila Kuehl and Bobby Shriver, the the two candidates looking to replace LA County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky for the 3rd District, take a listen to KCRW’s radio debate, moderated by Warren Olney.

Here are some clips from near the end of the program in which Kuehl and Shriver discussed the proposed $2 billion jail plan, mental health diversion, jail abuse, and the impending federal consent decree to address issues with mental health care within county jails.

Olney: The current board has voted to spend $2 billion on a new jail with a wing for the mentally ill, at the same time as an effort to reduce the number of inmates, partly through the diversion of people who are mentally ill. Would you, if you became a supervisor, continue the process of building that $2 billion new jail?

Shriver: No. I’ve said widely and everywhere that I would not. I think mentally ill folks should be treated in community settings. We’ve got a lot of research showing that it’s very, very bad to jail them—these are the non-violent mentally ill people.

Olney: But the jail is for other people as well. Is there a need for a $2 billion jail?

Shriver: No. There’s a need for a new jail, for bad people. There is not a need for a new jail to incarcerate mentally ill or substance abusing people. They should be treated in the community. But that’s the current plan—I think it’s important for your listeners to know—the current plan, brought forward by Mr. Fujioka and others, is to build a $2 billion jail and keep mentally ill people in that jail. I am completely against that. I am for community mental health care.

Kuehl: I agree. I’m against it as well. The supervisors did not vote uniformly on this jail, and I’m hoping there will be some way to open that up again, should I be elected. And I know Bobby agrees about trying to open it up. The difference, I think, between what they adopted and what would be right, is the ability to send more people into community treatment, not only for mental illness, but also substance abuse.


Olney: The federal Justice Department is seeking consent decree to get in control of the county jails, which it describes as “dimly lit, vermin-infested, unsanitary, cramped, and crowded.” And that, they say, is one reason for the suicides of so many inmates, especially those who are mentally ill. Abuse by sheriff’s deputies appears to be part of the problem, but you don’t control them. The Dept. of Mental Health has a major presence in the jails. Does it need new leadership?

Shriver: It does. It reported to Mr. Fujioka, by the way. The consent decree will come, and I will not oppose it. I think that management in the jails is just been a disaster. Police officers have been indicted. As sheriff-candidate Jim McDonnell said the other day, they’re going to do hard time. So, when you’ve got police officers being indicted by the federal government, who are going to go to jail, you’ve got a situation that needs real addressing.

Olney: What responsibility is that of the board…?

Shriver: If I were on the board, I would be gnashing my teeth…. I would be examining the budget in a very aggressive way….The sheriff is independently elected. You can’t tell the sheriff how to police things. What you can do, is run the budget. That’s the supervisor’s job—to supervise the budget. And if you run somebody’s budget, you can have a lot of influence over them, and that just wasn’t done here. The CEO didn’t do it, the board didn’t do it, and this situation is out of control, and needs to be fixed.

Olney: And Sheila Kuehl, what about the consent decree? That’s liable to cost the county a lot of money.

Kuehl: It’s going to cost the county a lot of money. The supervisors actually have a great deal more they can do in addition to the budget, because their hands are going to be tied a little bit by the consent decree costing so much more. And that’s really about what needs to be done in the jail itself….it’s not just budget. It’s a question of, can there be a citizen’s oversight commission? It’s a question of whether the inspector general can have subpoena power…


Sheriff-hopeful Paul Tanaka has released a new TV ad with a focus on public safety.

Posted in 2014 election, Education, LA County Board of Supervisors, Paul Tanaka | 8 Comments »

Report: LA Needs More Mental Health-Trained Officers and Diversion Tools, California Kids’ Well-Being, Mental Health and Foster Care, Sheriff John Scott Backs Jim McDonnell…and More

October 30th, 2014 by Taylor Walker


More LA law enforcement officers need specialized training on how to better interact with people having mental health crises, according to a report from a consulting firm hired by LA District Attorney Jackie Lacey.

The report, by the GAINS Center for Behavioral Health and Justice Transformation, also said that there need to be more safe locations for officers to take people suffering from severe mental health problems who often end up in a jail cell because of delayed and overstuffed psychiatric ERs.

In addition, the GAINS report recommends bringing more social workers into LA’s justice system and bolstering current county mental health diversion efforts.

(These findings don’t just apply to Los Angeles. Other California counties would also be wise to take this report seriously.)

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

The county, the report by GAINS Center for Behavioral Health and Justice Transformation concluded, puts “insufficient resources” into its mobile response teams, the report found.

The center was hired by Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey, who is heading a task force focused on the mental health issue. The task force intends to develop a detailed proposal for county supervisors to consider early next year.

The report also found that there weren’t enough safe places for officers to take people with serious mental health issues.

“It’s often more time-efficient for law enforcement to book an individual into jail on a minor charge … rather than spend many hours waiting in a psychiatric emergency department for the individual to be seen,” the report said.

The report also recommended expanding an existing county program that places social workers in the courts to identify defendants who might be candidates for diversion, putting a pre-trial release program in place for such defendants, and placing more social workers in the jails.


A new report from the Children Now research group rates California and its counties on how well kids are faring with regard to education, health, and socio-economic issues.

Research director, Jessica Mindnich, says the numbers indicate too many California kids are slipping through the cracks. For instance, only 12% of California kids from low-income households have access to state-funded after-school programs.

California, as a whole, did not fare well in comparison with other states, and there were huge discrepancies across counties based on poverty levels. Although 81% of CA foster kids are placed with families (not in group homes), in some counties far fewer kids are placed in family settings, like Imperial (58%) and Sonoma (58%). And while the California average for 12th graders ready to graduate on time is 80%, some counties had much lower senior graduation rates, like Inyo (32%) and San Francisco (55%).

You can view all of the statistics via Children Now’s interactive Child Wellbeing Scorecard, including county-specific data.

KPCC’s Deepa Fernandes has more on what the numbers indicate. Here’s a clip:

Compiled every two years by the nonpartisan research group, Children Now, the 2014-2015 scorecard paints a bleak picture for many California children, particularly those who live in counties with concentrations of impoverished families.

“While some counties may be doing better than others, as a whole we are failing our children,” said Jessica Mindnich, research director for Children Now. “Despite having a large economy and more children than any other state, we are allowing too many to fall through the cracks and denying them the opportunity to be productive, healthy and engaged citizens.”

The data that Children Now collects and compiles come from publicly available local, state and national sources. It was used to evaluate how children are doing based on a series of key indicators.

Overall, California’s kids do not fare well when compared to other states, according to the data.

“Not only are we at the bottom nationally,” Mindnich said, “but we have pretty large disparities across the state based on where kids live.”


The Chronicle of Social Change’s John Kelly has the first in a three-part series looking at Katie A. v Bonta, a 2002 lawsuit in which lawyers representing foster youth in Los Angeles and the state of California over its failure to provide mental health care services for kids in foster care or at risk of entering the foster care system.

John Kelly explains how the lawsuit came into being and what has resulted from its settlement. Here’s how it opens:

In 2002, lawyers representing foster youth in Los Angeles sued the county and California over its failure to service the mental health needs of children in or at risk of entering foster care. For years the mental health issues that these vulnerable children face were often ignored. The children who did receive treatment were frequently hospitalized when outpatient services would have sufficed.

Twelve years later, the clock has nearly run out on the settlements that stemmed from Katie A. v Bonta. On December 1, 2014, separate court settlements with the state and Los Angeles County could end.

Following is The Chronicle’s analysis of what has happened since the settlement and where the state and Los Angeles could go next with regard to providing quality mental health services to children in need.

In 2002, Los Angeles County and the state of California became ensnared in a federal lawsuit. Lawyers represented a handful of children and youth, alleging massive gaps in mental health care services available to children in the child welfare system.

These children were either in foster care or at risk of placement into foster care due to a maltreatment report. Katie A., the lead plaintiff, had never received therapeutic treatment in her home. By age 14, she had experienced 37 separate placements in Los Angeles County’s foster care system, including 19 trips to psychiatric facilities.

Evidence strongly suggests that children in foster care deal with significant mental health issues at a much higher rate than the community at large. One study showed that foster youth in California experienced mental health issues at a rate two-and-a-half times that of the general population.

Los Angeles County settled with the plaintiffs in 2003 and accepted the oversight of an advisory panel. After years of litigation and negotiation, the state came to terms only in 2011. A “special master” was appointed to oversee compliance efforts.


Interim Los Angeles County Sheriff John Scott has officially endorsed Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell for sheriff in next week’s general election.

In his endorsement, Sheriff Scott said, “I have every confidence that Jim will make an outstanding Sheriff of Los Angeles County. He is the right person, at the right time, to take the leadership role and re-build this department.”

“It is my hope that the voters of Los Angeles County will select a man of unquestionable integrity and proven leadership skills, with well over thirty years of law enforcement experience in LA.”

McDonnell responded to Scott’s support, saying, “I’m proud to be endorsed by Interim Sheriff John Scott and thank him for his vote of confidence. Sheriff Scott has worked to bring stability to the LASD during challenging times. I look forward to ushering in a new era at LASD, continuing to move the Department beyond past problems and restoring the trust of our community.”


With a new push for an $8 million cultural center in Culver City, LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas has jumped onto the arts advocacy stage. Outgoing Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Gloria Molina both have some remarkable arts accomplishments under their belts (for instance, Yaroslavsky’s 2004 Hollywood Bowl renovations and Walt Disney Concert Hall development, and Molina’s Grand Park and La Plaza de Cultura y Artes).

And we hope that the two new supervisors, Supervisor Elect Hilda Solaris and the candidate who replaces Supervisor Yaroslavsky, also emerge as champions of the arts.

The LA Times’ Mike Boehm has more on the proposed cultural center. Here’s how it opens:

Ridley-Thomas is the prime mover behind an $8-million plan to convert a county-owned former courthouse in Culver City into a cultural center that he envisions including a possible outpost of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and a media-arts education hub supported by Sony Pictures Entertainment.

Ridley-Thomas’ bid to headline the creation of a cultural facility is on a more modest scale than such big-ticket projects as Hollywood Bowl renovations, championed by Yaroslavsky, and the creation of La Plaza de Cultura y Artes and Grand Park, projects driven by Molina in downtown L.A.

His plan came to light recently when the Board of Supervisors approved $6 million for what’s tentatively called the 2nd District Arts and Cultural Center in Culver City, which is part of Ridley-Thomas’ 2nd Supervisorial District.

Posted in DCFS, District Attorney, Foster Care, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, Los Angeles County, Mental Illness | 7 Comments »

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