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PBS Documentary on Juvenile Life Without Parole…NY Times Supports Marijuana Legalization….Paul Tanaka’s Retirement Take-home Pay….and More

July 28th, 2014 by Taylor Walker


Next Monday, August 4, PBS will air “15 to Life,” the story of Kenneth Young, who received four consecutive life sentences for committing several armed robberies as a teenager. Kenneth thought he would never make it out of prison alive, until the US Supreme Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama that the mandatory sentencing of kids to life in prison without the possibility of parole, without a judge or jury having the opportunity to consider mitigating circumstances, was a violation of the 8th Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.


On Sunday, the NY Times editorial board officially came out in support of repealing the federal marijuana ban, which is something of a big deal. The editorial was also the starting point for a six-part opinion series on legalizing marijuana. (In part one, NYT’s David Firestone argues in favor of the feds stepping back and letting states decide.)

Here’s a clip from the editorial board’s significant endorsement:

The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana.

We reached that conclusion after a great deal of discussion among the members of The Times’s Editorial Board, inspired by a rapidly growing movement among the states to reform marijuana laws.

There are no perfect answers to people’s legitimate concerns about marijuana use. But neither are there such answers about tobacco or alcohol, and we believe that on every level — health effects, the impact on society and law-and-order issues — the balance falls squarely on the side of national legalization. That will put decisions on whether to allow recreational or medicinal production and use where it belongs — at the state level.

We considered whether it would be best for Washington to hold back while the states continued experimenting with legalizing medicinal uses of marijuana, reducing penalties, or even simply legalizing all use. Nearly three-quarters of the states have done one of these.

But that would leave their citizens vulnerable to the whims of whoever happens to be in the White House and chooses to enforce or not enforce the federal law.

The social costs of the marijuana laws are vast. There were 658,000 arrests for marijuana possession in 2012, according to F.B.I. figures, compared with 256,000 for cocaine, heroin and their derivatives. Even worse, the result is racist, falling disproportionately on young black men, ruining their lives and creating new generations of career criminals.


Between seven months of salary pay and 339 days of unused paid leave accrued over his 31-year career, former undersheriff Paul Tanaka took home $591,000 as final pay in 2013. This number was only surpassed by one county employee, the chief neurosurgeon at the biggest county-run hospital.

The LA Daily News’ Mike Reicher has the story. Here’s a clip:

Including his seven months of wages and benefits, the county paid $591,000 for Tanaka in 2013, according to payroll records provided to the Bay Area News Group, part of the Daily News’ parent company. This made him the second-highest compensated employee, next to the chief neurosurgeon at the largest county-administered hospital.

A certified public accountant (whose license is inactive), Tanaka did not violate any rules, county officials said.

Nor did he “spike” his pension. None of the 339 days leave he cashed out applied toward his retirement income, officials say. The county code limits that widely criticized practice of boosting one’s final salary.

Six-figure payouts aren’t rare at the Sheriff’s Department, though Tanaka topped the 2013 list. There were 500 other sheriff’s employees — more than at all other county departments combined — who received one-time payments in excess of $100,000, according to the 2013 data. For some county employees, those checks may have included bonuses or other taxable cash payments in addition to leave time.

Tanaka, who did not respond to requests for comment, was pushed out of the department by Sheriff Lee Baca following a series of scandals. Federal authorities are investigating whether high-level sheriff’s officials were involved in witness tampering. During recent testimony, Tanaka told a prosecutor he was aware he’s a subject of the probe, and denied any wrongdoing. He is facing Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell in the November run-off election.

An employee with McDonnell’s standing would be eligible to cash out a maximum of 60 days vacation and holiday time upon retirement, Long Beach administrators said. Also, when he left the Los Angeles Police Department in 2010, after 28 years, McDonnell cashed out his unused sick time, vacation and overtime hours for $90,825, according to the City Controller’s office.

Some argue that such payouts unnecessarily strain local government finances.

“They earned the benefits, and they’re entitled to it, but there’s no reason the benefits should be inflated to the top rate,” said Kris Vosburgh, executive director of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. “They should be paid based on the value of the benefit they earned, at the time they earned it.”

While we’re on the subject of LASD retirement packages, a number of the department’s scandal-plagued supervisors have been able to retire ahead of being demoted or terminated.

This, for example, is what we wrote a year and a half ago about Dan Cruz and Bernice Abram’s sudden retirements—and their estimated yearly retirement pay.


In an op-ed for the Huffington Post, Timothy P. Silard, president of the Rosenberg Foundation, says our warped criminal justice system should be remodeled into a system that bosts public safety while turning lives around. In his essay (inspired by Shaka Senghor’s powerful TED talk, above), Silard says we must keep pushing for sentencing reform—reducing the number of low-level drug offenders and mentally ill in prison—and reinvest money saved through lowering incarceration rates back into programs that rehabilitate and help former offenders successfully return to their communities. Here’s how it opens:

I got a first-hand look at how our criminal justice system could be used to transform lives — not just punish — while serving as a prosecutor in the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office.

In one case, an 18-year-old young woman was arrested for selling drugs on a San Francisco street corner. She normally would have ended up behind bars for a felony conviction that would have followed her for the rest of her life. Instead, she pled guilty, accepted responsibility and entered an innovative re-entry program for nonviolent, first-time drug offenders. During the program, she was closely supervised and provided the resources and support she needed to turn her life around. Among the requirements: enrolling in school, performing community service and getting a full-time job. She thrived in the program. After graduating, she received a full scholarship to attend a university and finished her first semester with a 3.8 GPA.

The program, called Back on Track, was one of the first re-entry programs in a District Attorney’s Office. It would go on to become a national model, reducing re-offense rates from 53 percent to less than 10 percent while saving tax dollars — the program cost about $5,000 per person, compared to more than $50,000 to spend a year county jail. Perhaps even more importantly, it helped save lives and strengthen families and communities. The power of second chances was never more evident than at the yearly Back on Track graduation ceremonies. There, smartly dressed mothers, fathers, siblings, children and community members celebrated the young graduates as they prepared to embark on much more hopeful futures.

For far too long, our criminal justice system has been stuck using one gear – the incarceration gear. We lock up too many people for far too long, for no good reason, and we’re doing so at great economic, human and moral cost. As a prosecutor, I saw the same offenders arrested, prosecuted and locked up, only to come back time and time again. I saw low-level, nonviolent offenders return from prison and jails more hardened and posing a greater threat to our communities than when they went in. And I saw African Americans and Latinos arrested and jailed at egregiously greater rates than whites.

Posted in LWOP Kids, Marijuana laws, Paul Tanaka, prison, Reentry, Rehabilitation, Sentencing | 13 Comments »

California “Lifers” and Parole, Sex Trafficking in LA, Kids Unrepresented in Court, Sheriff Candidate Updates, and Oregon Legalizes Gay Marriage

May 20th, 2014 by Taylor Walker


Over the last six years, California has seen a considerable increase in “lifers” winning parole. This is largely due to a 2008 Supreme Court ruling that changed how the parole board and the governor handled parole decisions.

In the latest installment of the KQED California Report series “Second Chance: Lifers and Parole in California,” reporter Scott Shafer looks at the positive environmental shifts this significantly increased chance of parole is creating inside prisons, and speaks with former “lifers” now paroled and living on the outside.

Here’s a clip from the transcript:

For decades, California inmates serving sentences like 25-years-to-life had very little chance of being released. Parole was routinely denied by the Board of Parole Hearings, or blocked by the governor.

But in the past few years, there’s been a dramatic change. Since a key Supreme Court ruling in 2008, the number of so-called “lifers” winning parole has steadily climbed. Since then, more than 1,700 lifers have been released.

The change is being felt on both sides of the prison walls. At a recent graduation day at San Quentin State Prison, about 50 inmates — most of them lifers — collected their diplomas from a course in leadership.

After the ceremony, Associate Warden Jeff Lawson said that as more and more lifers are granted parole and leave prison, the inmates are taking notice.

“Most of these guys understand there is light at the end of the tunnel now,” Lawson says. “So it just helps improve the overall environment for them. And it gets the ones who were maybe straddling the fence to get off the fence and get on the right side.”

Inmate Duane Reynolds just completed the leadership course. On the way back to his cellblock, he describes the crime that sent him away more than 25 years ago.

“As a matter of fact, what I did was, I murdered my uh, my supervisor,” Reynolds says. “High on drugs. So my life was out of control.”

Reynolds was 30 at the time. His sentence: 26 years to life. He’s now 54. Despite being denied parole three times, Reynolds is hopeful. Next month, he says, the parole board will decide — once again — if he’s suitable for parole and no longer a risk to society. I ask him if he thinks he’s suitable?

“That’s a very difficult question for me,” he answers. “I will say this: I’m a changed individual. But the fact that I took another human being’s life, that’s a hard question for me.”

Reynolds says he and his fellow San Quentin inmates are very aware that after years of routine denials of parole, word is out: If you do the work, complete the programs and stay in line, release is a very real possibility.

“The fact that people are going home is really encouraging to a lot of individuals,” he notes.

Since 2009, more than twice as many lifers have been paroled than in the previous two decades combined. There are several reasons for that. State Supreme Court rulings that made it tougher to deny parole to inmates who are no longer a threat to public safety.

Also Gov. Jerry Brown’s 12 appointees on the parole board are granting parole at a much higher rate than previous commissioners.

And unlike his predecessors, who usually blocked parole for murderers, Brown is allowing 80 percent of the parole recommendations to go forward.

While you might think that freedom after decades in prison is all upside, the reality is more complicated…

Listen to/read the rest.

The LA Daily News has a compelling new series on sex trafficking in Los Angeles,
who the real victims of the trafficking are, and new ways city officials and law enforcement agencies are combatting the problem.

A particularly good story in the series, this one by Christina Villacorte, explores programs created to help teen girls escape sexual exploitation and start their lives over, through relocation, education and job training, and other crucial services. Here’s how it opens:

Her face marred by a tattoo that a pimp had used to mark her as his property, the teenage girl told the judge in a plaintive voice, “I just want to go home.”

Later, another teen girl wearing too much makeup and too little clothing admitted running away from a group home for juvenile delinquents after attacking someone there for insulting her.

“Someone called me a prostitute and I lost it,” she explained to the judge. “I blacked out.”

Her bravado faded, however, when a probation officer explained that she was found wandering the streets afterwards, having gotten lost while looking for her mother, who had abandoned her.

When she cried, she revealed the child she still was, underneath the makeup, sheer top and short skirt, with high heels and matching red purse.

This is the STAR Court in Compton, a pilot program that specializes in cases involving commercially sexually exploited girls, and Commissioner Catherine Pratt presides with a focus on rehabilitation over punishment. The acronym stands for Succeeding Through Achievement and Resilience.

Pratt does not immediately dismiss the prostitution-related charges against the girls so they can remain eligible for wraparound services offered by Los Angeles County’s juvenile justice system. These include placement in a group home or juvenile hall — a safe place away from pimps — gang intervention programs, educational opportunities, job training, and even family reunification services.

“Most of these kids have experienced betrayal, if not worse, from people in positions of authority throughout their whole lives that skews their view of the world,” Pratt said. “What we’re trying to do for these kids is to show them there are people in positions of authority who do care.”

When the girls are ready and able to leave the life, she can order their juvenile criminal records sealed, allowing them to start over.


Rolling Stone Magazine has an interesting story by Molly Knefel that looks at the reasons indigent kids often go unrepresented by an attorney in courts across the nation and what one state is doing to remedy the issue. Here’s a clip:

…In juvenile courts across the country, children often face the full weight of the criminal justice system without the protection of a defense attorney. According to a report from the U.S. Attorney General’s office, “Some systems ensure that every child in the system is represented, while others allow 80-90 percent of youth who are charged with offenses to appear without counsel.” Children may be unrepresented for a variety of reasons, including lack of access to a public defender or pressure from judges or prosecutors to waive their constitutional right to an attorney.

Earlier this month, Colorado scored a victory for juveniles in criminal proceedings by passing House Bill 1032, a law that will ensure that all children will be represented by counsel when they appear in court. The Colorado Juvenile Defender Coalition (CJDC) found in 2012 that at least 45 percent of juveniles did not have a defense lawyer at any point throughout their case, with many more receiving counsel late in proceedings. Kim Dvorchak, CJDC’s executive director, says that early advocacy is crucial for children who have been arrested. “There are many places statewide where kids are showing up in a jumpsuit and shackles and the judge is deciding whether they get to go home,” she says, “and no one is there making an argument for them.”

Dvorchak says there’s a similar problem for children who receive summonses and have to appear in court. Those are called “first appearances,” and many children face them with literally no defense attorney in the room. “You’ll have a busload of kids and families in the room,” she says. “There will be a prosecutor there who calls out their names, talks to them right there in open court in front of all the families, let’s them know, ‘I’ve reviewed your case and I’m offering you a plea bargain.’” Without a lawyer, she says, those families have no one to tell them the potential impact of accepting a plea – and they may feel pressure to plead guilty even if their child is innocent. “They may think, ‘Oh probation, that sounds good, you’re not putting my kid in jail.’ But they’re not understanding what probation will mean for their lives.”

Read on.


Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey has recorded a radio advertisement in support of Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell for Los Angeles County Sheriff.

Paul Tanaka also has a new radio ad, and Assistant Sheriff Jim Hellmold had a glossy insert in the Sunday LA Times last week.


On Monday, a U.S. District Judge Michael McShane tossed Oregon’s ban on gay marriage. His ruling will likely not be challenged. (Hooray!)

The Oregonian’s Jeff Mapes has more on the ruling (in addition to some lovely photos of gay couples finally allowed to get marrried). Here are some clips:

Oregon’s ban on same-sex marriages was struck down Monday by U.S. District Judge Michael McShane, who ruled that the prohibition violated the federal constitutional rights of gays and lesbians.

Jubilant couples who anticipated a favorable decision from the judge began the rush to officially wed at locations around the state. McShane ordered that his ruling take immediate effect.

“Because Oregon’s marriage laws discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation without a rational relationship to any legitimate government interest,” McShane wrote in his decision, “the laws violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

Deanna Geiger and Janine Nelson, two of the plaintiffs in the case, were the first couple to marry in Multnomah County following the ruling.

Oregon becomes the seventh state where a federal judge has struck down a gay marriage ban since the U.S. Supreme Court last year invalidated key sections of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Unlike in the other states — Idaho, Utah, Michigan, Virginia, Oklahoma and Texas — there was no one with the immediate standing to appeal the decision.


The judge said gay and lesbian families and their children were harmed by Oregon’s ban on same-sex marriage in “a myriad of ways,” including adoption rights, tax laws and spousal benefits granted by employers.

McShane said that preserving the traditional definition of marriage was not a strong enough argument for Oregon’s law to stand. If that were the case, he wrote, tradition could be used as a “rubber stamp condoning discrimination against longstanding, traditionally oppressed minority classes everywhere.

Posted in juvenile justice, LASD, LGBT, parole policy, School to Prison Pipeline | No Comments »

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

February 21st, 2014 by Taylor Walker


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Read on.)


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Here are some clips:

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Don’t Close Child Dependency Court…Lee Baca’s Approval Rating… Baca Uses the “B” Word: Bitter…..”Circle It!” Don’t Suspend Say TX Students….Graduation & Crime & Money

December 20th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


On Wednesday there was a hearing in front of the 2nd Circuit Court of appeals that is to determine whether or not the order issued by Judge Robert Nash in January 2012 to finally open Los Angeles County’s child dependency courts to the press under certain controlled circumstances was legal.

These are the courtrooms where foster care cases are heard, that have too long been secretive and disastrously short of sunlight.

The LA Times editorial board asks the 2nd Circuit to leave the situation as is. As does Christie Renick for the Chronicle of Social Change.

Here’s a clip from what the Times had to say, with which we strongly agree:

Has openness perfected the Dependency Courts? No. But parents who felt their cases were being rushed through by overburdened lawyers and social workers have expressed relief to have outside eyes present; lawyers who complained of judges delaying cases have welcomed coverage that creates a disincentive to dawdle; judges say coverage has focused attention on questionable lawyering. Meanwhile, the tentative ruling cites no instance in which any child has been harmed by the presence of reporters.

This is an important work in progress; the appellate court should not end it. If it tries, the Legislature should pass a bill keeping the courts in Los Angeles open or, even better, extending the principle of Nash’s order to the entire state.

We’ll let you know when we learn more.


Early Wednesday morning Los Angeles County Sheriff’s candidate and Lee Baca challenger Bob Olmsted released a poll that showed that incumbent Baca’s approval ratings could be in the midst of a bad slide.

The poll was a live telephone survey of 406 likely June 2014 voters in LA County conducted December 16th – 17th 2013. Olmsted’s campaign paid for the survey.

Gene Maddaus of the LA Weekly got the fastest story up on the matter. Here’s a clip:

Sheriff Lee Baca has had a rough couple of years, but it’s gotten really bad in the last two weeks, ever since federal prosecutors brought corruption charges against 18 of his deputies.

Baca is up for re-election next year, and the unending scandals have taken a toll on his approval ratings. That’s according to a new poll released today by one of Baca’s opponents.

The survey shows that Baca’s favorability rating has plunged in the last two years, and a majority of likely voters now disapprove of Baca’s handling of his job. Not a good sign for the 71-year-old lawman.


As with any internal poll, take it with a grain of salt.

With that, the results:

Baca (job approval)

Positive: 34%
Negative: 52%

Baca (favorability):

Favorable: 41%
Unfavorable: 33%

His favorability rating has declined sharply since the fall of 2011, according to another poll the Weekly obtained last month.

Baca (2011 favorability)
Favorable: 66%
Unfavorable: 23%

That’s a 35-point drop in his net favorability rating in the last two years.

As Maddaus said, one should take insider polls with a dash of good sel de mer. Plus the sheriff has a big powerful political machine plus nearly two decades worth of popularity that one would be unwise to discount.

Yet, there is without a doubt blood in the water.


After not meeting with the press for months, Sheriff Lee Baca has emerged from his bat cave to speak with reporters a number of times in the last week. On Wednesday he met with KCAL 9′s Dave Lopez.

Be sure to watch the video, which includes a change of clothes on the part of the sheriff so that he could speak about the election legally—AKA out of uniform.

After talking about what he describes as his utter non-involvement with the FOS—Friends of the Sheriff—hiring program, he did his clothes change and chatted emphatically about his campaign.

Here’ a bit of what he said:

“My job right now is to explain my side of the story,” he said. “Leaders do not ever not have problems or controversy.”

Baca’s two opponents, Robert Olmsted and Paul Tanaka, are one-time assistant sheriffs who were once part of his inner circle. [Actually that isn't accurate, but whatever]

Without mentioning the men by name, he referred to both of them Thursday.

“My opponents – one is bitter and one is actually a quitter and bitter. And so here you’ve got another one who is bitter but should have been a quitter,” he said.

Okay, I count three in that statement. One bitter, one a quitter, and “one who is bitter but should have been a quitter.’

Who’s the third guy, sheriff? Just asking.

NOTE: ABC-7 has a story on the Friends of the Sheriff issue, that is worth checking out as well.


The term “circling it” has become an important part of the vernacular at Ed White Middle School in San Antonio, Texas.

Jim Forsyth at WOAI Radio has the story. Here’s a clip:

Marilyn Armour of the University of Texas School of Social Work calls it ‘Restorative Discipline’ and he says it has resulted in a staggering 84% decrease in suspensions at White, which previously had some of the highest discipline rates in the entire district.

“What’s happening here is really an effort to change the whole climate,” she told 1200 WOAI’s Michael Board. “Not just change the kids’ behavior.”

She says Restorative Discipline is a student based way of convincing kids to behave properly. When a child acts out, rather than an immediate trip to the principal’s office, in school suspension, or other traditional tactic, the students, counselors, teachers ‘talk out’ the issues in what are called ‘restorative circles.’

“When kids begin to get skills beyond the fighting, it gives them options they haven’t had before,” Armour said.

She says many examples of sixth and seventh graders engaging in disruptive behavior is frequently borne of frustration, the students want to be heard, and they want to be considered to have a role in their discipline and the activities they engage in. She says this process allows the student to talk out their problems, with an eye toward reducing bullying, truancy, and disruptive behavior…


A recent report draws a correlation between graduation rates and entry into the criminal justice system—and then does the math. Obviously one cannot draw a straight line of cause and effect, but the relationship is there, and the study is worth noting.

Isabelle Dills of the Napa Valley Register has the story. Here’s a clip:

strong>Among all 50 states, California would save the most money — $2.4 billion in crime costs — if the male high school graduation rate increased by 5 percent, according to a recent report from the Alliance for Excellent Education.

The report, “Saving Futures, Saving Dollars: The Impact of Education on Crime Reduction and Earnings,” examines research that links lower levels of education with higher rates of arrests and incarceration.


There is an indirect correlation between educational attainment and arrest and incarceration rates, particularly among males, the report found. According to the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Justice, 56 percent of federal inmates, 67 percent of inmates in state prisons, and 69 percent of inmates in local jails did not complete high school. Additionally, the number of incarcerated individuals without a high school diploma is increasing over time.

“Dropping out of school does not automatically result in a life of crime, but high school dropouts are far more likely than high school graduates to be arrested or incarcerated,” Wise said.

The report found that increasing the male graduation rate would decrease crime nationwide. According to the report, annual incidences of assault would decrease by nearly 60,000, larceny by more than 37,000, motor vehicle theft by more than 31,000 and burglaries by more than 17,000.

It would also prevent nearly 1,300 murders, more than 3,800 occurrences of rape and more than 1,500 robberies, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, DCFS, Education, How Appealing, LA County Jail, LASD, Restorative Justice, School to Prison Pipeline, Sheriff Lee Baca, Youth at Risk, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 40 Comments »

THE SCHOOL DISCIPLINE CRISIS: 3 New Bills, a Commission Hearing, a Groundbreaking Report… & LAUSD

April 15th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

The topic of school discipline, school safety
and the so-called school to prison pipeline continues to heat up. We will be reporting more regularly on these issues over the next year, as more and more voices push for change.

In the meantime, here’s an overview of some of the events of the past week and the coming week.


On Tuesday of this week a cluster of new bills will have their first hearings in the state capital. All are aimed at at reforming some part of what education advocates call a crisis in school discipline. AB 549 would push for more school counselors and better defined roles for school police, and SB 744 would help fix some of the more pressing problems with “community day schools” that, at present, often lead students to drop out, rather than helping students toward graduation.

But perhaps the most important of the new bills is AB420, which would greatly curtail the use of the dangerously vague catch-all category of “willful defiance” as the sole reason for suspending or expelling a student.

We’ll have more on the willful defiance issue as time goes along. But for now what you need to know is that it is defined as, “disrupting school activities or otherwise willfully defying the valid authority of school staff,” and that, according to a new report by the California Department of Education, 53 percent of all school suspensions this past year had this kitchen sink category as the primary cause.


Last week, UCLA’s Civil Rights Project released a first-of-its-kind new report analyzing the data from more than 26,000 American middle schools, and found that one out of every nine secondary school students was suspended at least once during the year—and that the majority of suspensions were for minor infractions of school rules—things like disrupting class, tardiness, and dress code violations. The suspensions were rarely for serious, violent or criminal behavior.

The report also found that racial disparities in the use of school discipline are so great, and have grown so dramatically since the 1970s, that the matter has become a civil rights issue—especially for African American students who now face an astonishing 24.3% risk of being suspended—that’s a one in four likelihood.

When gender and disability are thrown into the mix, things get worse: According to the report, 36% of all Black male students with disabilities in middle and high schools, were suspended at least once in 2009-2010—more than one in three.

The UCLA study warned that the findings should be of “serious concern” given that new research shows being suspended even once in ninth grade means “a 32% risk for dropping out” before graduation.

“There is something terribly wrong,” wrote Daniel Losen, report author and director of The Center for Civil Rights Remedies, “when, despite very effective alternatives, so many middle and high schools quickly punish and exclude students of color, students with disabilities and English Learners. We know these schools can change because, in many large districts, we found many low-suspending schools where suspension is still a measure of last resort.”

All these points and more were discussed in Sacramento this past Friday morning as testimony was presented at the Select Committee on Delinquency Prevention and Youth Development, chaired by Assemblymember Roger Dickinson (D).

The special hearing, called: Beyond Newtown – Promoting Safe, Supportive, and Healthy Schools, heard some affecting testimony from all over California.

Yet, not surprisingly, our own LAUSD was front and center more than any other district.


The UCLA report found that LAUSD had 54 schools out of its 215 secondary schools that suspended at least one segment of its student body (African American males, let’s say) more than 25%, and 13 schools that suspended one group or segment more than 50%. The report designated these high suspension campuses as “hot spots.”

Nationally, LA Unified ranked as 4th in the nation, when it came to these “hot spot” schools.

That’s the bad news. However, like many districts, LAUSD is a very mixed bag when it comes to school suspensions. This means there is also good news—namely the fact that the district ranked first in the nation when it came to low suspending schools (81 schools) that “suspended no group over 10%.”

Here’s a break out of the LAUSD part of the UCLA Civil Rights Project report


Of all the low-suspending LAUSD schools, the one with the most dramatic story of change is James A. Garfield High School, which is located in an unincorporated area of East Los Angeles. Garfield draws from some of LA’s most impoverished communities, as a consequence, it has traditionally dealt with a host of social problems that often lead to discipline issues, including gangs, drugs, and the family dysfunction that often accompanies poverty.

Thus it was nothing out of the ordinary that, in the 2008/2009 school year, Garfield instituted 683 suspensions and one expulsion.

But in January 2009 Garfield got a brand new principal named Jose Huerta, who was part of a new reorganization plan for the desperately troubled school. Among other changes he and his team instituted, Huerta decided that he was going to take suspensions and expulsions entirely “off the table.”

It was a radical promise but, amazingly, Huerta made good on it. At the end of the 2010/2011 school year, Garfield had suspended one kid, and expelled zero kids. The next year, it was the same, suspended 1, expelled none.

Thus far for the 2012/2013 school year there have been no suspensions.

You’ll be hearing a lot more about Garfield in the coming weeks—as we think you’ll find its transformation to be an important and instructive story.


That’s all for now. Tomorrow some interesting LA Sheriff’s department news, plus news about a proposed LA Unified Board resolution—-and more soon on LA County Probation.

So stay tuned.

Posted in LAUSD, Restorative Justice, School to Prison Pipeline, Youth at Risk, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

Rules for Engagement: The Collateral Damage of School Discipline…and What to Do About It

March 27th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


Journalist Jane Stevens has a remarkable website that only experts seem to know about but that deserves a very wide readership among those who care about…well….kids, and certainly those who care about education. It’s called Aces Too High, and it’s about the affect that adverse childhood experiences-–AKA “ACE” AKA childhood trauma—have on education, and school discipline issues, and, of course, the way and the reasons why kids intersect with the juvenile justice system.

In this article by Stevens, titled The secret to fixing school discipline problems? Change the behavior of adults,” she explains—probably better than I’ve yet seen it done elsewhere—-the affect of zero tolerance discipline policies, and the profoundly positive changes that occur in schools and school districts, when the adults running things figure out that suspensions and expulsions aren’t good solutions to anything.

Here’s a large explanatory clip:

A sea change is coursing slowly but resolutely through this nation’s K-12 education system. More than 23,000 schools out of 132,000 nationwide have or are discarding a highly punitive approach to school discipline in favor of supportive, compassionate, and solution-oriented methods. Those that take the slow-but-steady road can see a 20% to 40% drop in suspensions in their first year of transformation. A few — where the principal, all teachers and staff embrace an immediate overhaul — experience higher rates, as much as an 85% drop in suspensions and a 40% drop in expulsions. Bullying, truancy, and tardiness are waning. Graduation rates, test scores and grades are trending up.

The formula is simple, really: Instead of waiting for kids to behave badly and then punishing them, schools are creating environments in which kids can succeed. “We have to be much more thoughtful about how we teach our kids to behave, and how our staff behaves in those environments that we create,” says Mike Hanson, superintendent of Fresno (CA) Unified School District, which began a district-wide overhaul of all of its 92 schools in 2008.

This isn’t a single program or a short-term trend or a five-year plan that will disappear as soon as the funding runs out. Where it’s taken hold, it’s a don’t-look-back, got-the-bit-in-the-teeth, I-can’t-belieeeeeve-we-used-to-do-it-the-old-way type of shift.

The secret to success doesn’t involve the kids so much as it does the adults: Focus on altering the behavior of teachers and administrators, and, almost like magic, the kids stop fighting and acting out in class. They’re more interested in school, they’re happier and feel safer.

Then Stevens gets into the really good stuff… about the effect of trauma on kids’ behavior, and…well, just read it.

“You can’t punish a behavior out of a kid,” says Jen Caldwell, a social worker at El Dorado Elementary School in San Francisco, CA. “The old-school model of discipline comes from people who think kids intentionally behave badly.”

Joseph Arruda, learning director at Reedley High School in Reedley, CA, shakes his head: “Suspending, expelling….that’s the old way.”



As we’ve mentioned earlier, Radio and PBS host Tavis Smiley has new PBS special that focuses on some of the same school-to-prison-pipeline topics that Stevens talks about above.

WLA’s own Matt Fleischer interviewed Smiley for FishbowlLA about the special titled Education Under Arrest, and Smiley talked about how the filming got to him emotionally:

….We spoke to Smiley last week, and he said this topic had left him emotionally drained in a way he had never experienced before in his more than two decades in the media.

“This is one of the most emotional pieces of work I’ve really done,” he tells FishbowlLA. “This has never happened before, but I had to stop camera at one point because I started crying. We had to take a break. I couldn’t keep it together.”

Smiley says it was the story of Kenyatta and Kennisha–sisters from New Orleans who were expelled from their charter high school for fighting after one was jumped and the other attempted to come to her rescue–that left him particularly raw.

“Both girls end up penalized because there is no gray area for adults to make decisions about these issues. They were both almost perfect 4.0 students. To see these two girls, as bright and full of life as can be, treated in a punitive and pejorative way, I had to stop camera because I started crying.”

“Bad things do happen to good people. I understand that. But I couldn’t wrap my head around why the adults in this situation couldn’t have figured out a better way to handle it.”

The special aired Tuesday night, and it’s terrific. It will re-air on PBS-OC on Sunday. Or you can watch it online here.

Matt talks more extensively to Tavis Smiley here.


ED Week’s Ross Brenneman has a rundown on yet one more excellent show dealing with this new wave in education. Here’s a clip:

At Washington Metropolitan High School, in the District of Columbia, many students struggle to keep going. The alternative school for at-risk youth features a litany of the toughest problems schools have to cope with: Chronic absenteeism, dropouts, violence, teenage pregnancy, suspension, tight budgets, and an ongoing challenge to meet adequate yearly progress.

In an ambitious project, a film crew went into D.C. Met for the entirety of the 2011-12 school year to give a broad picture of what a school in dire straits faces. The result, “180 Days: A Year Inside an American High School,” debuts tonight at 9 p.m. ET on PBS, with the other half showing tomorrow night.

“180 Days” gives a sweeping view of the climate inside alternative urban schools, starting with the school’s principal, Tanishia Minor, and moving out from there. The crew went into the high school every single day, and if the four-hour finished product seems expansive, it ultimately focuses on the difficulty of keeping a school together, let alone making it academically proficient.

“In these parts, we know these kids are walking in with these deficits, and every second counts,” Minor says.

The climate almost demands failure. When a student gets a great scholarship to college, they put the good news on the sign in front of the school….

As with Tavis Smiley, the producers of this show also came away changed by the experience of making the documentary:

“It was completely transformative. I think it changed all of our views on education,” said coordinating producer Alexis Aggrey, after the screening. “I think it made us feel, after we shot it and going through all the footage, we just feel like this piece was going to be bigger than what we expected it to be, and I think it lends a voice to this conversation that wouldn’t have normally been captured.”

It aired in LA Tuesday night, check listings here for future airings.

Photo: still shot from broadcast of Tavis Smiley special, “Education Under Arrest”

Posted in School to Prison Pipeline, Trauma, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

GA’s “Second Chance” Program Becomes the Model for the State….Experts Worry About Cops in Schools….and More on Juvie Justice

March 6th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

EDITOR’S NOTE: LA’s primaries are (thankfully) over, with most of the major races headed for the May runoffs. So, as a palate cleanser, here’s a cluster of stories on the linked topics of juvenile justice, school reform—and what strategies in these arenas really work:

(NOTE # 2: More stories On LA County Probation and the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, coming soon>)


Rhonda Cook for the Atlanta-Journal Constitution reports. Here’s a clip:

Quantavius Poole was a school brawler, a drug dealer, and he was facing five years in juvenile detention.

Now, at 17, he is a sous chef for a caterer. He hopes to enlist in the National Guard so he can pay his way through a military college. He wants to enter the Air Force.

The program that may have saved Poole, called Second Chance, is a blueprint for legislation to overhaul Georgia’s juvenile justice system. It’s credited with steeply reducing juvenile offenses in Clayton County, and its supporters believe a statewide program could save Georgia hundreds of thousands of dollars per offender.

The goal is to divert offenders who are not violent or could be saved into community-based programs instead of locking them up. Even some who commit more serious crimes could see less time locked up…

The Chief Judge for Clayton County’s juvenile court, Steve Teske, told the AJC that Second Chance has helped dramatically reduce juvenile crime in the county since it started in 2003. That year, 4,774 Clayton teenagers were accused of crimes; last year the total was only 1,936. At the same time, the program gets kids back in school and, in so doing, has increased the region’s graduation rates.

As you’ll see in the video above, Judge Teske is a colorful and extremely intelligent juvenile justice reformer who wears bow ties, is a prodigious storyteller with a flare for the dramatic, and is someone you’ll be hearing a lot more from in the next year, we promise.

“There is a better way,” Teske says, “and it does work.”


Radio and TV host Tavis Smiley has a new PBS special coming up at the end of the month (March 26, PBS) in which he looks at the connection between the juvenile justice system and the dropout rate among American teenagers—as well as promising efforts by educators, law enforcement professionals, judges, youth advocates and the at-risk teens themselves to end what has become known as “the school-to-prison pipeline.”

In the course of his report, Smiley takes the show on the road, looking at programs and policies in Washington State, Louisiana, Missouri and California, to see what strategies are working well, and what policies are spectacularly unproductive. (I don’t know if “Second Chance” is featured in Smiley’s program, but it’s exactly the kind of successful “evidence based” program that’s proven to work.)

“This notion of zero tolerance is that everything requires extreme action,” says one expert in the series. “And it doesn’t”

In any case, mark your calendars and tune in.


Susan Ferris, the excellent reporter for the Center for Public Integrity, has the story about tension that is occurring between the struggle to keep schools safe—while, at the same time, making sure that those same schools are emotionally healthy and non-destructive environments for the kids who attend them.

Here’s an explanatory clip:

….the push for more cops or other armed security personnel in schools is running headlong into another movement that’s been quietly growing in states as diverse as Mississippi, New York, Utah, Texas and California.

It’s a push to get police out of schools, or at least to end their involvement in routine discipline matters that principals and parents used to address without involvement from law enforcement officers.

Civil-rights groups and juvenile court judges — and even some officials within the Obama administration — argue that because the ranks of police began growing in schools in the late 1990s, the criminal justice system’s involvement in student discipline has gotten entirely out of hand in some communities. That has put students, especially ethnic minorities, on a path to failure, they say — the so-called school-to-prison pipeline.

In Los Angeles, for example, scores of students, most Latino or black and many just 11 or 12 years old, have been ticketed by school officers for minor infractions often categorized as disturbing the peace. In Austin, Texas, a 12-year-old was forced to court for spraying on perfume in class. In DeSoto County, Miss. officers and a school district were sued after a bus surveillance video — seen in part by a reporter — revealed officers unjustifiably arresting black students, the suit alleged, and threatening others with a “a bullet between the eyes.”

Optimists — Education Secretary Arne Duncan among them — say cops in schools are not an either/or proposition: careful training, they say, will ensure that school police deployed in the wake of Newtown protect, rather than intimidate, students.

But many civil-rights advocates are worried. They say plenty of cities and states are only beginning to come to grips with allegations that schools, and school-based police, have unjustifiably sent students into the criminal-justice system.

As it happens, Ferris used Clayton County, Georgia’s Judge Teske [see above} for her story, and here’s what she found:

Chief Juvenile Court Judge Steven Teske, of Clayton County, Ga., is not against police in schools, but firmly believes that a school-to-prison pipeline exists.

When Teske took the bench in 1999 in his Atlanta suburb, which is 66 percent black, one-third of the cases in his court were kids referred from schools. By 2004, he said, 92 percent of the 1,400 cases in his court came from schools, mostly for alleged disruption and disorderly conduct.

Lt. Francisco Romero, Clayton’s school resource officer at the time, told the Center for Public Integrity that he was disturbed to discover that one year he arrested more people — students — than any other officer in Clayton.

Fed up, Teske called together school and police leaders and hammered out a protocol requiring counseling and clear warnings before students were sent to court. Teske credits the protocol with improving relationships between students and police, and driving down juvenile felonies by 51 percent and increasing graduation rates by 24 percent.

“If police are placed on campus without written protocols defining their role, the results will be disastrous — just as removing existing police from campus can have unintended consequences,” Teske wrote in the publication Youth Today after the Newtown killings.

Los Angeles Judge Michael Nash also weighed in on the topic:

Michael Nash, presiding juvenile court judge in Los Angeles County, said in an interview that it’s hard to argue against placing police in schools — if they stay out of discipline matters.

As president of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, Nash sent a strongly worded letter to the Obama administration on Jan. 15, responding to the administration’s call for ideas on school safety.

“Research shows that aggressive security measures produce alienation and mistrust among students, which, in turn, can disrupt the learning environment,” the letter said. “Such restrictive environments may actually lead to violence, thus jeopardizing, instead of promoting, school safety.”

A student’s odds of dropping out of high school quadruple with a first-time court appearance, Nash wrote. Last summer, the judges’ council began a national campaign “to support school engagement and reduce school expulsion.” Putting more armed personnel into schools, Nash said, could prove “counterproductive” to this effort.

Read on to see what the Obama administration plans to do regarding all of the above, which will, of course, affect LAUSD, the nation’s second largest school system.


And, just because it’s entirely cool to listen to, here’s a link to a purely wonderful interview with Father Greg Boyle (of Homeboy Industries), by Krista Tippett, host of American Public Media’s fine show on faith, called “On Being.”

Posted in Education, School to Prison Pipeline, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 1 Comment »

Unusual Bedfellows for CA Realignment Reform….The Homeboy 5K….The Anti-Suspension School…..& More

December 11th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


No labor union in California has been more obstructive when it comes to criminal justice reform than the CCPOA—the prison guards’ union.

And few foundations have been more progressive and reform minded on the topic of criminal justice and prison and parole policy than the Rosenberg foundation.

That’s why it’s very cheering to see the prez of the CCPOA, Mike Jimanez, and the prez of Rosenberg Timothy Silard collaborating on a push for reform as evidenced in this Sacramento Bee Op Ed written jointly by the two men..

May it be a sign of things to come

Here’s a clip:

In polls and with their votes, Californians are sending a strong message that they are ready for the state to move in a new direction when it comes to public safety.

With realignment, local law enforcement has an unrivaled opportunity to lead us in this new direction, but the jury is still out on whether local officials will take up this challenge by adopting strategies that will make neighborhoods safer while maximizing scarce resources.

It’s been more than a year since the state – prompted by a major corrections crisis and a directive from the U.S. Supreme Court to reduce prison overcrowding – instituted realignment. In doing so, the state finally acknowledged that simply putting more people in prison was not the answer to its public safety woes. In fact, the Legislature recognized that California must reduce prison overcrowding and invest its limited resources to support programs and practices proven to keep people safe.

The state also gave local law enforcement and county officials the power to solve a problem that has plagued California for decades – how to keep our communities safe by stopping the revolving door of recidivism. Unfortunately, so far, many counties seem to be choosing to replicate the decisions that left the state’s criminal justice system broken in the first place.

Today, more than half of California’s counties are investing funding they received from the state to build or expand their local jails. Only a few are making real investments in proven crime-fighting strategies, such as re-entry centers, supervised pretrial release, rehabilitation and alternatives to incarceration – evidence-based practices that would lessen jail overcrowding and increase safety for California communities…..


Honestly, this is a great event!. However, if you really, really don’t want to run, you can sponsor runners, or just donate to one of So Cal’s most important and life-saving organizations.

It’s on Saturday, December 15, from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. (runners check in at 6 a.m,), at Los Angeles State Historic Park

You can find the rest of the info here.


When Principal Jose Heurta came to big, historically gang-troubled Garfield High School in 2010, his first move was to get rid of school suspensions.

Heurta mandated that, instead of tossing a misbehaving student out of school for a day or a week, thereby causing the student to fall even farther behind in his or her classwork, instead the staff would reach out to the kid and spend time with him or her.

Now So Cal Connected has done a terrific story on the exceptionally sane approach that is getting very heartening results. Brian Rooney reports with Karen Foshay producing.

Here’s a clip from the show’s transcript:

Last school year there were just over 700,000 suspensions throughout the California public schools. Kids sent home as punishment about one for every nine registered students. So you might be surprised to hear that at Garfield it was one. Just one suspension last year.

Rooney [to Huerta]: You came here mid-year and there were more than a hundred suspensions, and immediately you said, “No more suspensions?”

Huerta: Right. I talked to my team. And that’s off the table. I know what it’s about. These kids need to be in school. For us to help a kid, we need them in school.

Rooney: The vast majority of suspended students in California are Black and Latino. This school is 99 percent Latino.


Rooney: Last year, Garfield’s academic performance score jumped 75 points. The graduation rate last spring was just over 79 percent, three points better than the state average, and eight points better than the entire Los Angeles Unified School District.

Huerta: There’s gotta be trust in there with the teachers, the parents, and the students that everybody’s on the same team, that everybody has the same focus, which is students’ achievement.

Go Principal Huerta! Go Garfield!


Samantha Ottman at the LASchoolReport has the story:

A controversial item on the LAUSD School Board agenda this week proposes drastically limiting Superintendent John Deasy’s ability to seek funding for the district by applying for public or private grants.

The resolution, initiated by School Board Members Richard Vladovic, Bennett Kayser, and Marguerite LaMotte, aims to give the school board veto power over grant applications made by the school superintendent in amounts over $750,000.

According to a source with knowledge about LAUSD grant applications, Supt. Deasy has been awarded about $120 million dollars for the district through grants so far.

Because of the split on the school board between union-backed board members and supporters of reform-minded Deasy, the effect would be to severely limit the district’s ability to attract foundation and federal money.

Really, LAUSD board? You’re really are going to be that power-grabby and control freaky?

This questionable resolution will come before the board on Tuesday.

(You can read it here on the board’s meeting agenda, at Item 35.)

Posted in LAUSD, prison policy, Reentry, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 2 Comments »

As Commission Report Looms, Baca Pronounces LA Jails Force Policy “Best in the Nation”

September 19th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


While we await the final report by the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence-–the CCJV—which is due to be presented to the public on Sept. 28 (but could be delayed until Oct. 5), Sheriff Lee Baca has been attempting to get ahead of the story with a series of appearances, interviews and the like during which he has pronounced LASD’S jail violence problems as all but solved and the department’s force policies and practices as exemplary.

“All of the dynamics in the jail are fully understood, fully addressed and force is at an all time low,” Sheriff Baca told the LA County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

“We’re the best in the nation,” the sheriff continued, “and that includes Riker’s Island and Cook County, which others like to say are better models. But in fact they’re coming to us asking more about what we’re doing to improve the situation.”

Alrighty then.

It is probably relevant to mention here that, in the course of their investigations, commission staffers visited both Illinois’ Cook County’s jail system and New York’s Rikers Island jail complex, and consulted with both facilities’ directors and their staffs. In fact, two of the best known former heads of the NYC Department of Corrections—Marty Horn and Michael Jacobson—came to LA to testify before the jails commission about their own extensive collective experiences with corrections policy and what they observed about LA’s system. They were not particularly complimentary.

Ditto Matthew Cate, the head of the California Department of Corrections.


On Friday, the sheriff will appear on KPFK radio at 3 p.m. to talk with Earl Ofari Hutchinson’s show about the jails issue on The Hutchinson Report.

If the past is any guide, Hutchinson will discuss hard topics, but will not truly challenge the sheriff.

Or, as one LASD source said of the interview, “He’s going to the trenches and connecting with his community base.”

However, in contrast, neither the sheriff nor his spokesman Steve Whitmore were available to spend 15 minutes talking about the same issues with Warren Olney on Which Way LA? on Sept.10 on KCRW. (Warren is the most respectful of pros, but he does not let guests wriggle easily off hooks.)

And then, of course, there was Baca’s Op Ed in the LA Times last week in which he wrote:

When the American Civil Liberties Union first raised allegations of excessive force being used by deputies, I launched a full-scale investigation into each and every one. Because allegations and anecdotes are not the same as facts, it was important to discover what was true, and I think that when these investigations are completed, which I believe will be soon, the public will be surprised by the factual findings.

But I have not waited for the results of that investigation to take action to improve the jails. After I heard about the excessive force allegations, one of my first steps was to meet with more than 100 inmates and listen to their concerns……


Um, yeah. About Baca’s “full-scale investigation” into the allegations made in the various ACLU reports.

Let’s see, in September 2011, in reply to what was then the newest ACLU report detailing abuse in the jails (not to mention a plethora of negative media reports and a widening investigation by the FBI) the Daily Breeze reported the following about the sheriff’s opinion of the allegations:

Baca held a news conference following the release of a scathing report by the American Civil Liberties Union that he and his top commanders are willfully indifferent to claims that deputies viciously assault inmates on a routine basis.

“That is a very false allegation,” Baca said. “There are no gangs in the Sheriff’s Department working custody.”

And in reaction to that same ACLU report, the sheriff told the LA Times this:

“If an investigation reveals excessive force, that employee is discharged. The LASD is never hesitant to discipline itself,” Baca said, defending his department. “Investigating the facts is what gets the truth, That is what we do.”

Then the year before, in reaction to the ACLU’s 2010 report detailing allegations of a culture of violence, abuse and intimidation by deputies in the jails, Steve Whitmore told the Daily News:

“We believe that is not true,” Whitmore said.

“But don’t believe us. Go to the Office of Independent Review. The deputy sheriffs do not have that culture. All the complaints we get are thoroughly investigated, not only by the Sheriff’s Department, but are overseen by the OIR.”

And so on.

There are gobs of similarly colorful denials and dismissals of the ACLU’s yearly findings by the sheriff and/or his spokesperson, where those came from.


Let us also give credit where credit is due: Force is down the Men’s Central Jail and elsewhere in the county system. Plus the education based incarceration program that the sheriff is championing is truly an enlightened and important idea in incarceration policy.

In fact, the department will hold its next graduation for its jail-based “MERIT program—MERIT being short for “Maximizing Education, Reaching Individual Transformation”—this coming Thursday morning, September 20.

I hear they are very emotionally affecting occasions that mean a great deal to the inmates who take part. (Were I not in West Glacier, MT, I’d assuredly be there.)

But these essentially surface changes do not address the underlying culture of violence, abuse and us-versus-them mentality that the commissions’ investigators said infected the jails to a highly toxic degree and begin at very high levels in the department.


Which brings us, again back to the commission and its looming report. If the CCJV follows the lead that has been set by the very bluntly stated findings of its investigators, presented on Sept. 7 (see WLA report), it will ask for some fairly large changes from the sheriff and his department—including some changes at the top.

If so, what will the sheriff do then? Will he thank everyone very much for their time and effort, and continue to say he’s got it all handled, that there’s nothing to see here, folks?

Regrettably, that is precisely what his performances this week and last would suggest.

But perhaps Lee Baca will surprise us. Perhaps he will genuinely become the transformational leader he has presented himself to be all these years.

As Jake said to Brett in the last line of The Sun Also Rises: Isn’t it pretty to think so?

(If you’d like to check out the sheriff’s conversation with the Supes, it begins on page 78 of the preliminary transcript of Tuesday’s meeting linked below.)

Preliminary Transcript – LA County Board of Supervisors' meeting 0 9-18-12


We’ll be writing a lot more about LA County Probation this fall, but we cannot let this story pass about the arrest of Probation exec Carl Washington. It is covered well by Christina Villacort at the Daily News.

Here’s one small-but-startling clip from her story:

Washington is the 39th Probation employee arrested so far this year and he will not be the last, according to Chief Probation Officer Jerry Powers.

About half of the previous arrests were for driving under the influence.

There was one for attempted murder, and several for fraud and drug-related charges, most of which were allegedly committed while off duty.

“That’s about one arrest a week,” said Powers, who began running the department in January. “Certainly, 39 is way beyond reasonable or expected.”

That number is expected to go even higher, as Probation and the county Chief Executive Office have launched a crackdown on workers compensation fraud in the department.

The arrest numbers are, of course, slack-jaw-making. But the crackdown by Probation Chief Powers is good news. It’s about freaking time.

PS: I wonder how many of those arrestees—past and future—have been working with kids in juvenile probation.

Posted in jail, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca | 51 Comments »


July 20th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

Earlier this week the Los Angeles Unified School District announced an interesting partnership
with a national education reform organization called Future is Now Schools—or FIN—to create a group of “teacher-driven” academies within the LA school district.

The plan is for these new “hybrid learning” academies to be located in Silverlake, the Fairfax area and Venice, although no sites have, as yet, been firmly established. They are scheduled to open in time for the 2013-14 school year.

“I’m excited about the potential of this partnership to reinvigorate innovation in our school system,” Superintendent John Deasy said in a district-released statement. “We have the opportunity to make LAUSD a leader in collaborative education reform.”

While LAUSD’s partner— FIN—may not be a name familiar to most Los Angeles education watchers, its founder and board chair, Steve Barr, is very well known in LA as the founder of the influential Green Dot charter schools, which now runs 18 schools in the LA area.


The emergence of Green Dot, which Barr began in 2000, is viewed by many as being greatly influential in stimulating—and at times forcing—reform in the Los Angeles public school landscape during a period when LAUSD’s disastrously failing inner city middle and high schools often made national news.

Back then, Barr pushed reform from outside the LAUSD tent, even going so far to engineer what the district viewed as a hostile takeover of Alain Leroy Locke High School by Green Dot in 2008. This was at a time when Watt’s-located Locke—with its 28 percent graduation rate and 90 percent of its students performing below basic or far below basic on standardized tests—was emblematic of the worst of the LAUSD’s institutional failures.

Now, four years later, a UCLA study showed the Locke schools to be “significantly outperforming their counterparts on a number of state test score measures, as well as in remaining in high school over time, and in taking and passing challenging courses.”

Barr left Green Dot in 2009, and formed the national organization Green Dot America, which morphed into FIN. Thus far, FIN is in collaboration on schools in both New York City and New Orleans, in New York especially, working closely with the teachers’ union.


So what brought Barr’s focus back to LA, and drew him into a partnership with the district that had, in the past, often treated him as an antagonist?

When I spoke to Barr after the announcement, he told me that one of the factors was his warm relationship with district Superintendent John Deasy, whom he said, he views as one of the most innovation-friendly administrators he’s ever met.

But, most important to his decision, Barr said, was the fact that his daughter, Zofi age 6, was already at school age, with his son Jack, 4, rapidly zooming that direction.

“I’m committed to sending them to public school, and to an LAUSD public school,he said. “Los Angeles should have the best public school system in America. That’s what I want for my kids. I want my kids to go through LAUSD from kindergarten through the 12th grade”

But right now LAUSD is far from the greatest. And, given the state’s economic woes, if it is to just stay even, it needs additional tax revenue.

So what to do?

“Here’s the thing,” Barr said, “If you want to change your school district the fastest, you ‘ve got to be able to knit some coalitions together, and you’ve got to work with the [teachers'] unions.”

When Barr began Green Dot, he discovered that UTLA—LA’s often obstructive teacher’s union—had little interest in speaking with him, much less partnering with with him. In fact, UTLA’s then president A.J. Duffy, lost few opportunities to make clear his disdain of Barr and his charter ideas.

So Barr says he began talking to the union members themselves and, over time, developed relationships with some of UTLA’s more progressive factions, the members of which wanted more innovative approaches to education and helped to vote in UTLA’s current president, Warren Fletcher.

According to Barr and Deasy, the LAUSD-FIN partnership schools will be teacher-centric with teachers and administrators making most of the significant organizational and curriculum decisions, while the district oversees the operation of the physical plant.


Most of Green Dot’s original charters were in traditionally underserved, lower income neighborhoods in South LA, East LA, Watts and Inglewood, where many of the existing schools were underperforming in the extreme.

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Posted in Education, Green Dot, LAUSD | No Comments »

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