Darius Clark Monroe was a 16-year-old honors student in Texas until he robbed a bank with a shotgun in a foolish attempt to bring his family out of extreme financial hardship.
In an award-winning PBS documentary, filmmaker Darius Monroe talks about the circumstances that led to his decision and asks his victims for forgiveness.
As a teenager, Darius says he did not think of the repercussions when he robbed the bank: the psychological harm done to the bank employees and customers present for the robbery, and the pain inflicted upon his tight-knit family and upon himself.
NEW MEXICO EXPERIMENTS WITH EFFORTS TO REDUCE USE OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT IN PRISONS
The second installment in a three-part NPR series on solitary confinement in US prisons takes a look at the prison system in New Mexico where officials are working to reverse the state’s overuse of isolation. New Mexico has made real progress: 6% of the prison population is in solitary confinement this year, compared with 10% in 2013. But as the numbers creep lower, the task becomes more challenging, says Gregg Marcantel, head of New Mexico’s prison system. (We pointed to the first here.)
In New Mexico, many low-risk inmates were moved out of solitary. The men still housed in isolation can now earn their way out in nine months with good behavior. That’s still more time in solitary than most reform advocates and most mental health experts support, but not so long ago, New Mexico’s solitary unit was packed with inmates who were thrown into cells “and then we really had no clear-cut way to get them out of there,” says Gregg Marcantel, head of New Mexico’s prison system. He says when he came in as corrections secretary four years ago, that heavy reliance on solitary had been unquestioned for decades.
“It’s very, very easy to overuse segregation. I mean, for a guy like me it’s safe, right? It’s safe — if these prisons are quiet, I don’t get fired,” he says.
One of Marcantel’s new programs gives prisoners the chance to live in a more open group setting if they swear off their gang affiliations.
For corrections leaders like Marcantel trying to change the system, it’s a struggle to get it right. None of his reforms get rid of solitary. He says he can’t see it ever going away.
“But in a perfect world, one that maybe involves unicorns, yeah, I would love to get rid of it,” he says.
So far, New Mexico’s first steps toward change seem to be working. Two years ago, 10 percent of the state’s prison population was in solitary. That’s down to 6 percent this year.
LAPD: THE TRANSITION FROM “WARRIORS” TO “GUARDIANS”
The Los Angeles Police Department is conducting a series of five-hour training (or retraining) sessions in the wake of controversial officer-involved shootings in LA and across the nation.
The LA Times’ Kate Mather sat in on some of the LAPD training lectures, which emphasized replacing the “warrior” culture of the 70′s and 80′s with a mindset shift to “guardian” of communities. (WLA pointed to another story exploring this issue here.)
“We were warriors,” Deputy Chief Bill Scott recently told a room filled with LAPD rank-and-file officers, a group of fresh-faced rookies watching from the front.
Now, he said, officers need to think of themselves as guardians watching over communities — not warriors cracking down on them.
“That means if we’ve got to take somebody to jail, we’ll take them to jail,” Scott said. “But when we need to be empathetic and we need to be human, we’ve got to do that too.”
The five-hour lectures in Los Angeles have covered matters such as the way officers should interact with people who are mentally ill, how they can build community trust, when they are permitted to curse while dealing with the public and why they should avoid walking with a swagger. Department brass emphasized that public perceptions of police can be influenced by the way officers treat residents during their daily work.
Scott warned one group assembled at a department pistol range that the brash attitudes some officers have — “I’m the cop, you’re not” — can appear disrespectful. “That’s one of the biggest problems that we have,” he said. “How we talk to people.”
In an Eastside auditorium, Deputy Chief Jose Perez told a crowd of Hollenbeck officers that just because department policy allowed them to curse at uncooperative suspects — the LAPD calls it “tactical language” — they shouldn’t automatically use foul language when walking up to someone.
“It doesn’t let you go up to them, when you’re getting out of the car, and you go: ‘Hey … come here,’” Perez said, using a profanity. “We use it because we have to, not because you can or because you want to.”
When and how officers should use force was another key focus. Police were reminded to be patient with people who may be mentally ill and to try to build a dialogue in an effort to avoid using force to take them into custody.
In one session, officers were implored to carry less-lethal devices such as a Taser or beanbag shotgun in their patrol cars, so the option is always available. The department does not require all officers to carry less-lethal devices.
Last week, the LA Times’ Patt Morrison interviewed Deputy Chief Bill Murphy on the evolution of training within the department. (WLA linked to it here.)
PROP 47 IS HELPING FORMER OFFENDERS BREAK FROM STIGMA OF FELONIES
During her 20s, Sholanda Jackson was incarcerated 13 times because of an addiction Sholanda’s mother sparked by giving her crack cocaine as a teenager.
A poster child for rehabilitation, Sholanda has now been sober 11 years, has a degree, and works at a non-profit.
Thanks to California’s Proposition 47, which reclassified certain non-serious felonies as misdemeanors, former offenders like Sholanda are receiving a second chance—one that will free them from the stigma of old felony convictions, and help them secure employment, as well as government assistance.
KQED’s Marisa Lagos has more on the issue, including the story of Sofala Mayfield, another former felon who received a second chance through Prop 47. Here’s a clip:
His life began to fall apart in his teens, after his grandmother suffered a stroke and his mother fell back into drug addiction. After a series of minor run-ins with the law as a teenager, he was convicted of felony theft two years ago for stealing an iPhone.
Mayfield has three younger siblings that live with him. But he said when he got out of jail, he couldn’t find a job.
“I didn’t get any calls back, I would call them back — our hiring manager’s not in, you know. I just had a feeling that’s what it was, just me having the felony on my record and stuff,” he said.
At the urging of his probation officer, Mayfield called the public defender’s office and asked if he would qualify to reduce his felony to a misdemeanor under Prop. 47. Within a month, a court had approved the change.
He now has two jobs, is helping support his family and hopes to go to culinary school.
Could steroid use by cops cause officers to escalate in encounters with suspects, when deescalation might prevent tragedy? In a new story for AlterNet reporter David J. Krajicek talks to police experts and others who express concern over a rise in secret steroid use, now that pricy and complicated random testing has fallen out of favor with budget-minded law enforcement agencies.
While we don’t necessarily agree with every single one of Krajicek’s conclusions, his story brings up some worthwhile questions.
But first here is some background on the issue in general:
In 2004, the DEA became concerned enough about a pattern of steroid use among law enforcement personnel that, together with the U.S. Department of Justice, they created a seven-page booklet titled “Steroid Abuse by Law Enforcement Personnel” to help police agencies understand the problem and how to avoid it.
“Anabolic steroid abuse, once viewed as a problem strictly associated with body builders, fitness ‘buffs,’ and professional athletes, has entered into the law enforcement community,” the DEA wrote in its brochure.
“Law enforcement personnel have used steroids for both physical and psychological reasons,” added the DEA. “The idea of enhanced physical strength and endurance provides one with ‘the invincible mentality’ when performing law enforcement duties.” Especially when those duties are of a nature that can easily turn dangerous.
But whatever upsides the drugs might provide, the downsides could be considerable, warned the DEA, citing the following psychological side-effects:
- Mood swings (including manic-like symptoms leading to violence)
- Impaired judgment (stemming from feelings of invincibility)
- Extreme irritability
- Hostility and aggression
When the problem seemed to get worse, not better, in 2008 the International Association of Chiefs of Police passed a resolution that “calls upon state and local law enforcement entities to establish a model policy prohibiting the use of illegally obtained steroids” by officers.
That same year, Police Chief Magazine, the publication put out by the IACP, ran a story about dangers of steroid “use and abuse,” in which the authors (which included a high ranking Arizona cop, an army doctor, and several medical specialists and researchers) explained why the steroid issue was an essential one to face, despite the admitted difficulties with testing:
“Officers carry weapons, are authorized to use lethal force, and are often involved in physically controlling or restraining people,” the authors noted. “If the stories of ’roid rage are true, how often are the officers who use anabolic steroids involved in unnecessary use-of-force incidents that could become a major liability for their agencies? Considering the legal issues, health effects, and commensurate costs associated with inappropriate use, agencies should proactively address this issue. Rather than look back on what could be an embarrassing “steroid era” of law enforcement—one in which the profession might be riddled with lawsuits, corruption, and claims of heavy-handedness—it is critical to address the current and future impact of this issue head-on.
But according to more recent stories, even many of the cop shops that did test have dropped testing, including the Phoenix police, whose testing protocol was considered a pioneering model. Yet the problem has not gone away, as demonstrated by this 2014 story in the Augusta Chronicle about a brewing steroid scandal among law enforcement in Georgia—and elsewhere. Here’s a clip:
One of the largest cases occurred in New Jersey in 2007 when 248 officers and firefighters from 53 agencies were obtaining fraudulent prescriptions of anabolic steroids from a doctor. According to news accounts, the discovery was made after the doctor’s sudden death.
But smaller cases have occurred throughout the country, including one in Atlanta last year.
Five firefighters and one police officer from Cobb County were included in the investigation. Two of the employees resigned almost immediately.
Earlier this year in Washington state, investigators learned a King’s County sheriff’s deputy had been using steroids and dealing them to others inside and outside of the agency.
The sheriff told news outlets he suspected members of his SWAT team bought steroids, but he would not try to prove it because he needed the 20-man team intact.
(Interestingly, back in 2009, LA County’s Office of Independent Review reported, according to the LA Times, that the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department had lowered its hiring standards to the degree that, among other questionable hires, it accepted a recruit who “had abused marijuana and steroids and been convicted of underage drinking shortly before he applied to become a deputy.” Such standard dipping has since been corrected, which is good. However, it is no guarantee that steroid use is not continuing under the radar, at both the LASD and the LAPD. As a matter of fact, anecdotally speaking, we hear stories….)
The truth is, exactly no one reports that steroid use among cops is now on the wane, or even less prevalent than it was in the mid 2000s.
In fact, Dr. Harrison G. Pope, director of the Biological Psychiatry Laboratory at Harvard’s McLean Hospitaltold Megan Cassidy of the Arizona Republic last month, “There’s no real way to stem the tide, so to speak, as far as access to steroids, and there’s no prospect in the near future that use of them is going to decline,” said Pope.
“We are going to continue to see its use with law-enforcement officers.”
AND IN OTHER NEWS: WILL THE JJDPA OPEN THE WAY FOR OTHER JUVENILE JUSTICE REFORM?
The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act (S 1169) will be the piece of legislatation most closely watched by juvenile justice activists when Congress returns from summer recess in September. The JJDPA, as it is commonly known, cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee on July 23, and is headed to the Senate floor.
First enacted in 1974, the JJDPA has been due for reauthorization since 2007. On April 30, 2015, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced S. 1169, the bipartisan bill to accomplish the necessary reauthorization. The bill would also strengthen the JJDPA’s core protections for kids involved in the juvenile justice system.
If the Senate passes the bill, other juvenile justice legislation could gather momentum in JJDPA’s wake, said Naomi Smoot, senior policy associate at the Coalition for Juvenile Justice.
Such reform-oriented legislation introduced in late July and August include bills that deal with solitary confinement, shackling, alternatives to incarceration and record expungement.
Smoot said juvenile justice reforms are a natural fit within broader bipartisan negotiations to reform the criminal justice system.
“Juvenile justice reform really is the first line in those criminal justice efforts,” she said.
Barr lists some of the legislation that the JJDPA could tow behind it, including the MERCY Act (S 1965), which is the bipartisan bill introduced by Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., with Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Mike Lee, R-Utah, that would prohibit solitary confinement for juveniles in the federal system or held in pretrial facilities and juvenile detention facilities.
AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT: HERE’S HOW SOLITARY CONFINEMENT GOT HARDWIRED INTO THE POLICIES OF AMERICAN PRISONS
Here’s a clip from Part 1, which looks at the history of solitary:
In the yard at Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, gray-haired men make their way up to a small stage. A towering stone prison wall rises overhead. One by one they sit at a scratchy microphone and tell their stories — of being locked up 23 hours a day in a place that just about broke them.
“This place here really did something to me psychologically,” says former inmate Anthony Goodman.
Eastern State is the prison where solitary confinement was pioneered in the U.S. It’s a museum now, but the reunion here is a chance for former inmates to talk about what it meant to do time here.
“Because this place would make you go insane if you didn’t know how to handle it,” Goodman says.
Fred Kellner was a psychiatrist charged with looking after inmates’ mental health. He says he knew conditions at Eastern State were hurting people, but he felt powerless.
“I remember being bothered by various situations. You can’t do much about it because the most important thing in a prison is control. And that rules,” he says. “If you expect to change it, you’re in for depression.”
Here’s one of the first things you learn when you study the history of solitary confinement: People have had deep doubts about isolating inmates for a really long time.
The earliest experiments were carried out here at Eastern State in the 1800s in tiny, monastic cells. Sean Kelley, director of education at Eastern State, says at first people really believed that isolating criminals for long periods might help them heal, make them more virtuous.
Critics didn’t buy it. The British author and activist Charles Dickens who visited in the 1840s described long-term isolation as “ghastly,” a form of “torture.” Kelley says the people running Eastern State didn’t listen. Decade after decade they kept trying to make the system work.
“The officers and the administrators would write about the inmates becoming agitated. They would have to carry out really extreme physical punishments to maintain silence. They would literally put them in strait jackets and douse them in water in the wintertime and leave them outdoors,” he says.
FIRST HEARING LANDMARK LAWSUIT AGAINST COMPTON SCHOOL DISTRICT OVER PUNISHING TRAUMATIZED KIDS INSTEAD OF HELPING THEM
On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Michael Fitzgerald heard arguments in a potentially precedent-setting suit against Compton Unified School District for failing to help severely traumatized kids struggling with learning.
The lawsuit filed by Public Counsel and Irell & Manella LLP in May, alleges that Compton schools, instead of treating trauma as a disability, respond to traumatized kids by suspending, expelling, and sending them to different schools. The lawsuit on behalf of eight Compton students alleges these practices are in violation of federal law.
If Judge Fitzgerald grants the injunction, the school district would have to provide training for teachers, mental health services for students, and employ conflict-resolution as a first line of action before considering suspension.
A decision in favor of the young plaintiffs could also have a ripple effect on schools across the country.
Compton Unified’s attorney, David Huff, argues that the suit could have the effect giving all of Compton’s students a disability designation just because of where they live.
(Go here for WLA’s previous reporting on this lawsuit.)
Susan Ko of the National Center for Child Traumatic Stress says exposure to violence can have a profound effect on the brain’s ability to learn.
“That impacts concentration, the ability to just listen to what the teacher is saying, to understand what you’re reading, to remember something that you learned or what the teacher just said,” Ko says.
Not only that, many traumatized students live in a state of constant alarm. Innocent interactions like a bump in the hallway or a request from a teacher can stir anger and bad behavior.
The lawsuit alleges that, in Compton, the schools’ reaction to traumatized students was too often punishment — not help.
“They were repeatedly either sent to another school, expelled or suspended — and this went back to kindergarten,” says Marleen Wong, who teaches at the USC School of Social Work and has spent decades studying kids and trauma. “I think we’re really doing a terrible disservice to these children.”
The suit argues that trauma is a disability and that schools are required — by federal law — to make accommodations for traumatized students, not expel them.
BILL TO CREATE NURSE OVERSIGHT OF FOSTER KIDS’ PSYCHOTROPIC PRESCRIPTIONS LOSES $$$
A California bill would have mandated oversight of the prescribing of psychotropic medications to foster kids, giving current public health nurses power to monitor the kids, and paying for 38 new public health nurses across CA’s 58 counties.
The bill likely would have been a meaningful step forward in addressing a serious breakdown in foster kids’ mental health care, (uncovered in Karen de Sá’s invaluable investigative series for the San Jose Mercury News, “Drugging Our Kids“) that is, until its author Senator Jim Beall had to strip it of nearly all of its power in the hopes of getting it past budget hawks.
Implementation would have cost $5 million in the first year, and up to $10 million per year, thereafter.
Because Sen. Beall cut the funding out of the bill to give it a chance in the Assembly Appropriations Committee, nurse oversight is no longer be mandatory: counties can choose to opt in (or not) and will have to cough up the money if they want to participate.
Unfortunately, according to National Center for Youth Law’s Anna Johnson, “If you want monitoring to happen, you have to mandate it.”
“Appropriations committees are usually the highest hurdle you have to jump over … second perhaps only to the governor’s signature,” Beall, D-San Jose, said later Wednesday. “We’re going to get the bill on the governor’s desk.”
Beall’s SB 319 is one of four pending bills inspired by the Bay Area News Group’s investigative series “Drugging Our Kids,” which revealed that nearly 1 in 4 foster care teens takes psychiatric drugs.
The drugs are often used to control behavior, not to treat mental illnesses. Most of those on the drugs are prescribed antipsychotics, a powerful class of medication that have the most harmful side effects.
The bill still would give public health nurses the authority to get foster youth’s medical records from social workers and prescribing doctors, Beall said, even though it won’t be required. Almost all of the state’s largest counties will do so, he predicted, and he can use his seats on the Senate Budget and Appropriations committees to revisit funding for more nurses and perhaps a statewide mandate in next year’s budget talks.
Still, foster-youth advocates were disappointed.
The Oakland-based National Center for Youth Law sponsored SB 319, and center policy analyst Anna Johnson testified on its behalf Wednesday. Afterward, she said the state’s refusal to spend any money on this is especially disappointing because the federal government would pay 75 percent of the bill.
“If you want monitoring to happen, you have to mandate it” as many other states have, she said. Refusing to do so means “we’re happy with passing that cost on to foster children’s bodies” by “taking a big risk that children will continue to not be monitored on these medications, whether they’re medically necessary or not.”
LA COUNTY SUPES’ IMPROPER JAIL PLANS VOTE IS RESCHEDULED, BUT THE BOARD CAN’T TAKE BACK THE BREACH OF PUBLIC TRUST
Last week, LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey sent a letter confronting the Board of Supervisors about violating the Ralph M. Brown Act when they voted on a proposed amendment to a large-scale plan to divert mentally ill from county jails last Tuesday.
Because the board agenda did not mention there would be a discussion or vote on the jail construction, the vote did not honor the public’s guaranteed right to attend and participate in meetings of local government bodies.
Then, without prior notice, they proceeded to discuss and adopt a separate plan to downsize a facility to replace the dungeon-like Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles and to move ahead with construction of a women’s jail in the Antelope Valley. They offered this ludicrous explanation: The proper jail size depended on the number of people they could divert, so the agenda item on diversion programs and funding necessarily provided the public adequate notice that they would also take up and vote on the controversial multibillion-dollar public works projects.
The true reason for trying to shoehorn in the jails vote? It might be that they had just discovered that state officials were serious about a looming deadline to apply for construction funding, and that they were going to miss it because of their inattentiveness; or that properly calendaring the item for a later meeting would interfere with their vacation plans; or that providing legally adequate notice would raise too much of a public ruckus; or all of the above.
Some county officials also reasoned, after the fact, that anyone who cared about jails also cared about diversion, and therefore was already in the room and received their (very short) notice in real time.
But the purpose of public notice requirements isn’t solely to allow people to show up at board meetings to offer comments, especially in a county of 10 million residents. Only a small slice of the public weighs in that way. Others voice their opinions by calling, emailing, organizing, lobbying or arguing in advance of a major decision affecting them — if they know, as the law entitles them to know, when that decision is to be made. And when push comes to shove, taxpayers and other members of the public have every right to know what their elected representatives are doing, whether they plan to weigh in or not.
CALIFORNIA’S NEW WOLF PACK: THE FIRST IN NEARLY A CENTURY
A new pack of gray wolves, called the Shasta Pack by wildlife officials, has appeared in California. The two adult wolves and five pups, captured on a trail camera, are the first resident pack in CA in decades.
Here’s what the CA Department of Fish and Wildlife has to say about the new pack:
Wild wolves historically inhabited California, but were extirpated. Aside from these wolves and the famous wolf OR7 who entered California in December 2011, the last confirmed wolf in the state was here in 1924. OR7 has not been in California for more than a year and is currently the breeding male of the Rogue Pack in southern Oregon.
In June 2014, the California Fish and Game Commission voted to list gray wolves as endangered under the California Endangered Species Act. The gray wolf is also listed as endangered in California, under the Federal Endangered Species Act of 1973. Gray wolves that enter California are therefore protected by the ESA making it illegal to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture or collect wolves, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct in California.
CDFW is completing a Draft Wolf Management Plan and will release it soon.
LA Observed’s Kevin Roderick who has been following the California wolf saga for years has the story.
WEIGHING THE HARMFUL EFFECTS OF DIFFERENT CRIMES ON COMMUNITIES TO BETTER FOCUS POLICE ENERGY AND RESOURCES
In a paper published on Friday in the journal Ideas in American Policing, Temple University criminal justice professor Jerry Ratcliffe outlines the difference between a “crime and disorder” focused policing strategy and another method he calls “harm-focused policing,” which redirects police resources and strategies toward the detrimental effects of crime on a community
Targeting issues that affect poor minority communities, like substance abuse, emotional health, and gang recruitment would go beyond the symptoms to get at the “why” of the crimes.
Switching the focus would more accurately represent communities’ concerns, says Jerry Ratcliffe, a criminal justice professor at Temple University and the paper’s author, and would help to change the relationship between cops and poor minority communities: “Where police can often see only crime and disorder, community experiences are more nuanced and diverse.”
While it can be difficult to quantify harm, the paper says there are ways to identify places and people that are especially harmful to communities.
Here’s a clip from the paper:
The range of community anxieties is often heartbreaking, ranging from the day-to-day incivilities that sap community cohesion, to concerns about root causes of crime, drugs, speeding traffic, environmental conditions, community dissolution and the harms associated with gang recruitment of young children. It is not uncommon to hear concerns about the lack of police attention to a neighborhood in the same meeting as complaints about the detrimental impacts of excessive and unfocused police attention on the wrong people. While there are correlations between increased police activity and lower neighborhood violence (see for example Koper & Mayo-Wilson, 2006; Ratcliffe, Taniguchi, Groff, & Wood, 2011), the negative consequences of repeated police contacts are now being more widely understood.
The paper also says the controversial practice of “stop, question, and frisk” (or “stop and frisk”) should be included in the harm index calculations as something that can hurt police-community relations:
The crime reduction benefits of increased pedestrian investigations (sometimes referred to in general as ‘stop, question and frisk’ [SQF]) remain a matter of some dispute (Rosenfeld & Fornango, 2014), and the tactic itself remains highly controversial with the public concerned about both the disproportionate impact on minority communities and potential reduction in police legitimacy. Even Braga and Weisburd, two of the strongest advocates of hot spots policing, accept that ‘It seems likely that overly aggressive and indiscriminate police crackdowns would produce some undesirable effects’ (2010: 188).
Given the potential for harm stemming from unrestrained used of SQF, inclusion of a weighting for each pedestrian or vehicle investigative stop has a number of benefits. First, it acts as a constraint against unfocused and unrestricted use of SQF by over-eager police commanders desperate to reduce crime in a location. The right weighting3 would still sanction use of the tactic, but ideally encourage a focused and targeted application because each stop would count against the area’s harm index. In this way a calculation of cost-benefit ratio would determine if the anticipated crime and harm reduction benefits sufficiently offset any potential loss of police legitimacy and community support. Second, this would send a signal that the police are cognizant of the potential for pedestrian and vehicle investigative stops to impact police-community relations and that they are aware that some police tactics come with an associated cost. Third, having a price associated with investigative stops may generate improved data collection of stops, which will have a corollary benefit, allowing departments to better assess their vulnerability to accusations of racial profiling.
LAPD DEPUTY CHIEF WILLIAM MURPHY ON THE IMPORTANCE OF TRAINING, TRAINING, AND MORE TRAINING FOR OFFICERS
In an interview with the LA Times’ Patt Morrison,Deputy Chief William Murphy, who is the head of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Police Sciences and Training Bureau, talked about how much LAPD training has evolved from a decade ago, how the Sandra Bland tragedy might have turned out differently, and how LA officers are taught to conduct traffic stops and mental health crisis calls.
Here’s a clip (but do yourself a favor and read the whole thing):
What is the LAPD training for a traffic stop?
In the academy, before we teach anything, we ask, “Have you ever been stopped by the police?” Everybody’s hands go up. [They say] the officer was kind of rude. We say: “Remember that before we teach you how to do a traffic stop. What if it was your mother? Your sister? Is that how you’d want someone to treat them?”
In California, we teach an eight-step traffic stop. The first four are critical: The initial thing is the greeting — a smile, say, “Good morning, I’m Officer Bill Murphy of the LAPD.” When people ask for business cards, you give it to them — that’s our policy. When you do this [he points to his nameplate] and say, “This is me,” you’re just getting them mad.
Then you explain the reason for the stop. In some of these traffic stops that go south, they’ve left out some of these components. The goal of a traffic stop is to educate, not irritate. You pull somebody over for running a stop sign to have a conversation to change their behavior.
Watch the tapes and you notice officers — not from California — don’t ask [the driver], “Why would you do that?” I’ve had people tell me, “My wife’s at the hospital delivering my first baby” or “I just got fired today and my head’s not in the game.” You give them an opportunity to explain before you make a decision whether or not to write a ticket.
Then [as the last step], you say have a good day; you always end on a positive note.
The Sandra Bland traffic arrest apparently escalated when an officer got testy because she wouldn’t put out her cigarette; it ended with Bland allegedly hanging herself in a jail cell.
You have to think, is [the driver] a threat to you, or are you just irritated because they happen to be having a cigarette? If you think they’re really a threat, that’s a different situation. I’ve gotten pulled over, and as a police officer, my heart still races. [Bland was] probably just nervous, smoking her cigarette.
We teach don’t be the “contempt of cop” cop. Usually, you get contempt of cop when your emotions take over, when the goal becomes something other than educating, like, “You’re not respecting my authority.”
We’re lucky: About 98% of our police vehicles are two-person. If the [first officer] for whatever reason isn’t making that connection and it’s getting heated, we tell them to switch roles right away. Say, “Hey, partner, let me take this over,” as opposed to getting into a confrontation.
I was asked about the video of the Cincinnati incident [a campus police officer shot an unarmed man during a traffic stop; the officer has been indicted for murder]. You need to control your emotions and stress level so you don’t overreact. When you overreact, you can see a threat that’s really not there.
NEW ORLEANS’ MAYOR IS ON A CAMPAIGN AGAINST VIOLENCE IN POOR BLACK COMMUNITIES
The Altantic’s Jeffery Goldberg has a great longread about New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu who is on a crusade to cut down on the level of homicides in his city. Landrieu’s particular focus is on the “epidemic of young African American men killing young African American men.”
One of Mayor Landrieu’s innovative violence diversion programs, NOLA for Life, initiates “call-ins” where around 20 men between the ages of 16-24 who are likely to shoot or be shot, and who have had contact with the justice system, are called into court without explanation.
Landrieu addresses the gathered boys and young men, who are either doing a short stint in jail or are on probation, and introduces two groups of people who have come to speak with them and help them—on one side, representatives from every local and federal law enforcement agency, on the other, social workers and counselors ready to help the attendees and connect them with services and resources.
Landrieu tells the young men gathered in front of him, that if they leave the courthouse and make wrong choices they will have further contact with the law enforcement agencies in attendance, but if they choose correctly, Landrieu says, “I’ll make a commitment to you that you’re going to go to the front of the line: if you need a job, if you need mental-health, substance-abuse counseling, if you say you need something, the folks on this side of the room will listen to you, talk to you, help you.”
NOLA for Life also features mental health services, substance abuse treatment, and job training. And teams of counselors, including former gang members, are dispatched to ERs to convince family members of shooting victims not to seek revenge.
“i want people to tell me whether or not they think that the lives of poor young African American men that live in certain communities in every city—whether their lives matter…that’s all I want to know: that the answer to that is ‘yes’.”
Here’s a clip:
“It’s a roll of the dice. People get out of Central City, they do,” Landrieu told me recently. “But many don’t. If life had gone differently for Joseph Norfleet and James Darby, who knows? Joseph Norfleet could have been that 9-year-old victim. Maybe Joseph Norfleet would be dead and James Darby would be in prison today. We see this so often—today’s shooter is tomorrow’s victim.”
The prison [Angola], 130 miles from New Orleans, could legitimately be considered the city’s most distant neighborhood. Of the roughly 6,300 men currently imprisoned at Angola—three-quarters of them there for life, and nearly 80 percent of them African American—about 2,000 at any given moment are from New Orleans. Thousands of children in New Orleans—a city whose population today is roughly 380,000—have fathers who will reside until death in Angola.
“This place will bring you to your knees,” Landrieu said.
“What you’re going to see is a huge governing failure on the part of our society. This country has the highest incarceration rate in the world, and Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the country. That’s failure.”
Landrieu visits Angola on occasion to learn more about a crisis that has come to consume him. He decided, early in his first term, to devote the resources of his city to solving one of this country’s most diabolical challenges—the persistence of homicide in poor African American communities. The numbers are staggering. From 1980 to 2013, 262,000 black males were killed in America. By contrast, roughly 58,000 Americans died in Vietnam. In New Orleans, about 6,000 African American men have been murdered since 1980. The killers of these men were, in the vast majority of cases, other African American men. In New Orleans, 80 percent of murder victims are believed to have known their killer.
As we drove to Angola, I asked Landrieu why he has made homicide—a seemingly ineradicable disease in a gun-saturated country whose popular culture glorifies violence—his chief priority.
“I didn’t grab this. This problem grabbed me,” he said. “I guess you could say I’m obsessed with it. I don’t understand why it’s okay in America—a country that’s supposed to be the greatest country in the world, a place with more wealth than anywhere else—for us to leave so many of our citizens basically dead. Why do we allow our citizens to kill each other as if it’s the cost of doing business? We have basically given up on our African American boys. I’d be a cold son of a bitch if I ignored it, if I just focused on the other side of town, or focused just on tourism.
“I’m absolutely certain we have the money and the capacity to solve this problem, but we do not have the will. This problem doesn’t touch enough Americans to rise to the level of a national crisis. But these are all our children. I’m embarrassed by it. How could this be normal?”
FORMER LASD CAPTAIN TOM CAREY’S OFFICIAL GUILTY PLEA, AND WHY FORMER SHERIFF LEE BACA SHOULD WORRY
On Wednesday, former Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Captain William “Tom” Carey officially changed his plea to guilty in the obstruction of justice trial involving the hiding of a federal informant from the FBI.
Standing before US District Judge Percy Anderson, Carey pled guilty to one count of perjury. In exchange, three separate charges of obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and another count of lying on the witness stand, are to be dismissed.
In return, Carey will have to fully cooperate with the feds and provide testimony in related trials, including that of his co-defendant, former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, and that of former Sheriff Lee Baca, who has not been indicted, but may be federal prosecutors’ next target.
Former Sheriff Leroy “Lee” Baca might be getting nervous right about now.
Retired Captain William “Tom” Carey, 57, officially changed his plea to guilty on Wednesday, becoming the highest-ranking Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department official to flip in the years-long federal investigation.
“Guilty,” Carey stated under oath as he stood before Judge Percy Anderson alongside his defense attorney Andrew Stolper.
Carey cut a deal with prosecutors that requires total cooperation with law enforcement as they forge ahead in their investigation of corruption and inmate abuse inside county jails, which are run by the LASD.
Speculation is growing that Baca, who abruptly resigned in January 2014, could be in the crosshairs of federal prosecutors.
“We’ve seen in the investigation of this case that the prosecution has been trying to go as high as they can, even to the sheriff himself,” said Laurie Levenson, a Loyola Law School professor and former federal prosecutor.
Carey’s co-defendant, former LASD Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, goes on trial this November for his alleged role in the scheme to block the FBI investigation.
Carey’s plea deal means that three felony counts — obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice and one count of making false statements — will be dismissed.
Carey pleaded guilty to one count of making another false statement, which points to what prosecutors say was the true motivation for hiding Brown from the FBI.
At the trial of Deputy James Sexton in May 2014, Carey testified that there was no other reason to move Brown other than for his own safety.
Carey now admits that was a lie because he “knew that the deputies ordered to stand guard over Inmate AB during this time were there, at least in part, so that the FBI could not have access to Inmate AB unless there was an order from co-defendant Tanaka or another LASD executive that would have allowed access.”
Carey’s cooperation agreement means he is likely to testify against Tanaka at his upcoming trial, although defense attorneys are sure to attack Carey’s credibility now that he’s admitted to previously lying on the witness stand.
CHASTENED SUPES RESCHEDULE VOTE FOR LA’S MUCH DISCUSSED (AND OFTEN VOTED ON) BIG BUCKS JAIL BUILDING PLAN
As we reported Tuesday morning, last week’s August 11 vote by the LA County Board of Supervisors to move ahead on a compromise version of the costly and controversial jail rebuilding plan turned out to be ..um…illegal. It seems it was not calendared on the board’s agenda, thus it violated the Brown Act, which guarantees that the public—i.e. the rest of us—will be notified in advance that such a vote is going to take place in order to be able to participate in the decision making process in the form of public comment.
Thus, as of Tuesday, the vote has been scheduled to be re-voted on Sept. 1, complete with plenty of time for public discussion.
We are genuinely curious about what the supervisors thinking in blasting the vote through last week without putting it on the agenda properly. Instead, after multiple years of discussing this puppy, it was rushed through as a sort of rider on another scheduled vote—namely the mental health diversion plan—as if it was simply a minor amendment of no consequence, instead of a hugely controversial multi-year project that will cost upwards of $2 billion.
It didn’t matter that, before the illegal vote, ACLU’s Peter Eliasberg threatened every kind of lawsuit he could think of, and other jail reform advocates threatened similar measures.
But then, on August 13, two days after the vote, District Attorney Jackie Lacey wrote the board a short, pleasant, but very firm letter advising the five Brown Act scofflaws that they’d better fix things. Like, now.
The supes did as they were told. Sort of. They didn’t actually rescind the illegal August 11 vote. Instead, they approved a motion by Supervisor Mike Antonovich to redo the vote legally on the new date, while leaving the old vote on the books in the meantime. The reason for leaving the old vote intact until a new vote could replace it was to avoid missing a strict deadline to apply for $100 million in state money that would help to finance the Mira Loma women’s jail. (Fear of losing the $100 mill was much of the reason the Supes engaged in their tortured efforts to make the legally challenged vote happen in the first place.)
NOTE: This story was updated to correct our earlier erroneous report that the vote had been rescinded in order to reschedule it.
MILITARY VETERANS HELP EACH OTHER HEAL IN A WASHINGTON STATE PRISON
A Washington state prison houses convicted military veterans together, seeking to capitalize on their shared experiences to promote healing and their eventual transition to the outside. Washington is one of the handful of states that have instituted programs where vets are grouped in a special unit. Florida, Oregon, Virginia, and Colorado are some of the others.
Stafford Creek Corrections Center in Aberdeen, Washington is one such prison where the process seems tentatively to be working.
“We want to recapture that positive stuff that they learned in the military and them have them apply it to civilian life,” McElravy said.
The 90 or so men move about their unit freely. The walls are painted with armed forces insignia and flags.
The program is attractive to prison officials largely because it doesn’t cost extra money. Inmates with non-violent behavior while in prison are eligible; they work with the State Department of Veterans Affairs to sign up for VA benefits, services and job training.
Inmate Michael Kent began serving time for robbery in 2011 and came to the vets pod a year and a half ago.
“When I came to the pod, people greeted me. I was like, ‘Whoa, something is different here,’” Kent said. A common background helped to foster a sense of responsibility.
“There wasn’t all the politics. There wasn’t all the other garbage to be involved in,” he said. “All they were trying to do is help each other out. “
A story by Matthew Wolfe that ran late last month in the Daily Beast tells of a prison in Virginia with its own veterans’ pod, that is also seeing early intimations of success. Here’s a clip from that story:
Butler County’s Judge McCune, who spent a decade as a prosecutor, admits that veterans do receive treatment that, in a perfect world, would be available to all defendants. But he sees rehabilitating soldiers afflicted with combat trauma as a special moral imperative.
“If you’re willing to give your life to protect your country, we as a society have an obligation to help you deal with some of the problems attached to that service,” he said. “We’re trying not to make the same mistakes we made after Vietnam.”
In Haynesville, each veteran is assigned a position in the dorm. Recently the other inmates voted Corporal Boyd senior coordinator, making him the dorm’s unofficial leader. In previous facilities, Boyd tried to kept his veteran status under wraps—a challenge, as his right shoulder bears a massive tattoo reading “USMC.”
“A lot of guys don’t take kindly to you being in the military,” Boyd said. “A guy might be like, ‘What? You think you’re better than me?’ It’s better to keep quiet.”
In the veterans dorm, though, fights are almost nonexistent. If a conflict between inmates arises, there’s an intervention where everyone sits down and hash it out internally. The mood is calm and the dorm orderly. In the morning, racks are made, shoes squared away. Boyd and another group of vets meet for PTSD group on Thursday. The unit holds veterans from five different wars, and the average age of the dorm is a decade or two older than the inmates in gen pop. Boyd told me the level of trust was such that no one bothered to lock their footlockers.
“Everyone’s on the same page,” Boyd said. “We just want to do our time and go home.”
On the evening of April 21 in Building 21 at the Fishkill Correctional Facility, Samuel Harrell, an inmate with a history of erratic behavior linked to bipolar disorder, packed his bags and announced he was going home, though he still had several years left to serve on his drug sentence.
Not long after, he got into a confrontation with corrections officers, was thrown to the floor and was handcuffed. As many as 20 officers — including members of a group known around the prison as the Beat Up Squad — repeatedly kicked and punched Mr. Harrell, who is black, with some of them shouting racial slurs, according to more than a dozen inmate witnesses. “Like he was a trampoline, they were jumping on him,” said Edwin Pearson, an inmate who watched from a nearby bathroom.
Mr. Harrell was then thrown or dragged down a staircase, according to the inmates’ accounts. One inmate reported seeing him lying on the landing, “bent in an impossible position.”
“His eyes were open,” the inmate wrote, “but they weren’t looking at anything.”
Corrections officers called for an ambulance, but according to medical records, the officers mentioned nothing about a physical encounter. Rather, the records showed, they told the ambulance crew that Mr. Harrell probably had an overdose of K2, a synthetic marijuana.
He was taken to St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital and at 10:19 p.m. was pronounced dead.
In the four months since, state corrections officials have provided only the barest details about what happened at Fishkill, a medium-security prison in Beacon, N.Y., about 60 miles north of New York City. Citing a continuing investigation by the State Police, officials for weeks had declined to comment on the inmates’ accounts of a beating.
An autopsy report by the Orange County medical examiner, obtained by The New York Times, concluded that Mr. Harrell, 30, had cuts and bruises to the head and extremities and had no illicit drugs in his system, only an antidepressant and tobacco. He died of cardiac arrhythmia, the autopsy report said, “following physical altercation with corrections officers.”
PROVIDING EDUCATION IN PRISON REDUCES RECIDIVISM & SAVES MONEY: SO WHY NOT DO MORE OF IT?
Michelle Chen, writing for the Nation Magazine, points to a 2013 RAND Corporation study, which reported that participation in prison education, including both academic and vocational programming, was associated with a more than 40 percent reduction in recidivism, resulting in $4 to $5 saved, for each dollar spent on educational programs.
So why the resistance to providing more college opportunities inside the nation’s lock-ups?
Here are some clips from Chen’s story:
The plan to extend Pell Grant access in prisons is described as a “limited pilot program” authorized through a federal financial aid waiver program under the Higher Education Act. Incarcerated adults could apply for grants of up to $5,775 for tuition and related expenses, at college-level programs offered in prison facilities nationwide. Designed to allow for studying long-term effects of education on recidivism, the program moves toward restoring access to Pell Grants for incarcerated people, which Congress removed in the mid-1990s.
College behind bars remains a tough sell to some law-and-order conservatives—hence the charmingly titled counter-legislation, the “Kids Before Cons” Act. Generally, however, the idea of de-carcerating the prison population appeals to an ascendant libertarian streak among Republicans because, in fiscal terms, textbooks and professors yield better returns on investment than weight rooms and laundry duty.
But educational interventions may have more profound social impacts. Attending college classes has been associated with improved social climate and communications in the prison population, and “reduced problems with disciplinary infractions,” according to an analysis by the Institute of Higher Education Policy (IHEP). A study on women incarcerated at New York’s Bedford Hills facility was linked to improved family relationships, by demonstrating to family members a commitment to rehabilitation and turning parents into academic “role models.”
This is not simply about turning inmates into good worker bees. As a formidable prison debate team in New York has shown, postsecondary education enhances critical thinking by compelling incarcerated people to channel their often prodigious street smarts into more sophisticated forms of inquiry and analysis.
Glenn Martin, head of the reform group Just Leadership USA, which helped advocate for the Pell Grant initiative along with other decarceration measures, attended college himself while serving time in a New York prison. Post-release, he was rejected repeatedly for jobs, he recalls, but “what a college degree did for me was [also] to recalibrate my own moral compass and help me better understand why I was facing all those barriers to the labor market, the stigma I was facing.… I was able to analyze my situation in a much much more complex way.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: 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.
OUT OF COUNTY, CA: THE PROBLEMS WITH GOING THE DISTANCE
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.
LAST WEEK’S LA COUNTY JAIL PLAN VOTE APPEARS TO BE IN VIOLATION OF THE BROWN ACT
The LA County Board of Supervisors may have violated the Brown Act when they voted on a proposed amendment to a large-scale plan to divert mentally ill from county jails last Tuesday. The amendment, proposed by Supe. Michael Antonovich, was to launch construction on two new jails—one, a 3,885-bed replacement of Men’s Central Jail (to the tune of $2 billion), and the other, a women’s jail renovation at Mira Loma Detention Facility.
Because the board agenda did not mention there would be a discussion or vote on the jail construction, advocates and others say the vote was illegal according to the Brown Act which guarantees the public’s right to attend and participate in meetings of local government bodies.
Supe. Antonovich has since submitted a motion to reconsider the jail plans on September 1, but the ACLU’s Peter Eliasberg is worried the new “ambiguous” motion also means the jail diversion plan it’s attached to will also be reconsidered, unnecessarily.
“The only thing that really needs to be recalendared and opened for comment is the board’s decision to go ahead with the jail plan,” said Eliasberg. “As far as I’m concerned, the diversion motion was properly noted and should be treated as properly passed.”
“We understood that there were members of the public concerned that there was not enough time to participate in the process,” Antonovich spokesman Tony Bell said Monday. “We recalendared the item to make sure anyone who wanted to provide input on this item had that opportunity.”
The vote to continue construction of a $2 billion new jail in downtown L.A. to replace Men’s Central Jail and the renovation of a women’s jail at Mira Loma Detention Facility was tacked onto a motion during last week’s meeting on the jail diversion plan.
Antonovich proposed an amendment to the jail diversion motion by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl that would authorize contractors to continue construction on the two jails and proposed that 4,600 beds be built in the downtown jail that would house mentally ill inmates, inmates who have substance abuse issues and those who require medical attention.
Kuehl proposed a change to Antonovich’s amendment that the new jail have 3,885 beds, which was approved by a 3-1 vote with Supervisor Hilda Solis abstaining.
The diversion plan was approved by a 4-1 vote, with Supervisor Don Knabe opposed. Knabe said he wanted to have a flexible number of beds so that if the diversion efforts were successful, the number of beds in the jail could be reduced.
The agenda did not mention there would be discussion or a vote on the jail plan.
The jail plan was discussed at the Aug. 4 board meeting, but no vote was taken. At that meeting, the supervisors discussed a consultant’s report on the number of beds required at the new downtown jail facility.
During last week’s meeting, Peter Eliasberg, ACLU legal advisor, said the vote violated the Brown Act, which governs open meetings for local government bodies. He said the board opened itself up to a lawsuit.
The problematic vote riled the LA Times’ Editorial Board. Here’s the first paragraph of the board’s response:
Why does the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors even bother with agendas? Why post them, why even write them up, if the supervisors are simply going to ignore them and barge ahead with non-agendized business, approving costly and controversial projects such as new jail construction without public notice — without sufficient notice even to one another — and without serious analysis of the consequences?
We’ll keep you updated.
EDITORIAL: LA CAN’T KEEP JORDAN DOWNS WAITING FOR MUCH-NEEDED REBUILD
Plans for major reconstruction of the once-notorious 700-unit Jordan Downs housing project in Watts have been on hold for years.
The Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA) has been sitting on a $700 million plan to clean up the subsidized housing community, and add 700 more units, as well as restaurants and shops meant to provide jobs opportunities to Jordan Downs residents and the rest of the Watts community.
Jordan Downs has a history of gang violence, but is not as bad as it once was. The housing project went nearly four years without a homicide (until this April). Before that, from 2000-2011, 25 people were killed there.
Money has been spent on substance abuse treatment, community policing, child care, job training, and other programs including, Project Fatherhood. Through the Project Fatherhood program, men from Jordan Downs meet every week to teach each other, and younger men in the community, how to be fathers.
HACLA has lost out on federal funding, and is in the middle of cleaning up an adjacent toxic factory site on 21 acres, both of which are causing delays. But the LA Times’ Editorial Board says HACLA and city officials must make the Jordan Downs rebuild a priority, and get it built. Here’s a clip:
Numerous challenges lie ahead: There are commitments for some funding but hardly all of it, and the Housing Authority has twice lost out on federal grants for the project. Residents, meanwhile, are fearful of how the rethinking and reconstruction of their homes will change their lives.
The goal of public housing has long been to provide temporary shelter to families who need time to get on their feet before moving on, but Jordan Downs has become a multi-generational village that celebrates together and mourns together. The complex has been the site of both gang warfare and truce.
Questions of ideology and pragmatism lurk in the background. Has traditional public housing failed? Will adding market-rate housing and retail better serve the people who live there? Will the new Jordan Downs be an alternative to old-style projects such as Nickerson Gardens, Imperial Courts and Gonzaque Village, or a model for them?
However those questions are answered, it’s crucial for current and future residents that Jordan Downs be rebuilt into a complex that could offer a way out of subsidized housing and up the economic ladder.
Plans for the new development have it maintaining 700 units of subsidized housing, and every resident in good standing at the old Jordan Downs is being promised a home there. An additional 700 units of market-rate and affordable housing would also be built. Ideally, subsidized residents would get jobs and earn more income and graduate to nonsubsidized housing, possibly in the same complex. The retail complex would also offer job opportunities for residents in Jordan Downs and throughout Watts.
But first, it has to get built.
AMERICA’S DISEASED BAIL SYSTEM AND PRE-TRIAL DETENTION
The NY Times’ Nick Pinto takes a hard look at bail,the punishment-until-proven-innocent system that disproportionately affects the poor and keeps jails and prisons overflowing.
More than half of the nearly 750,000 people locked in city and county jails nationwide have not been convicted of a crime. And many of them remain in jail awaiting trial because can’t pay the bail amount a judge has set, not because they are a threat to public safety or in danger of absconding.
Time spent in jail pretrial, solely because a poor person gets arrested and can’t afford bail, can be extremely counterproductive for all concerned, causing loss of the person’s job, removing a parent from his or her family unnecessarily, and contributing to the cycle of incarceration that keeps jails and prisons stuffed.
The broken bail system also pressures people to take plea deals they might otherwise refuse, so as not to have to spend weeks, months, or years, behind bars without a conviction. Sometimes, like in the case of Sandra Brown (link), victims of the bail system don’t even make it out alive.
In the case of Kalief Browder, an inability to post $3,000 bail led to a three-year stint at Rikers Island, most of which was spent in solitary confinement. Browder came out of Rikers and isolation and struggled for three years with mental illness and the aftereffects of prolonged solitary confinement. Browder tried to kill himself several times, finally succeeding in June of this year. He was 22-years-old.
Here’s how Pinto’s story opens:
On the morning of Nov. 20 last year, Tyrone Tomlin sat in the cage of one of the Brooklyn criminal courthouse’s interview rooms, a bare white cinder-block cell about the size of an office cubicle. Hardly visible through the heavy steel screen in front of him was Alison Stocking, the public defender who had just been assigned to his case. Tomlin, exhausted and frustrated, was trying to explain how he came to be arrested the afternoon before. It wasn’t entirely clear to Tomlin himself. Still in his work clothes, his boots encrusted with concrete dust, he recounted what had happened.
The previous afternoon, he was heading home from a construction job. Tomlin had served two short stints in prison on felony convictions for auto theft and selling drugs in the late ’80s and mid-’90s, but even now, grizzled with white stubble and looking older than his 53 years, he found it hard to land steady work and relied on temporary construction gigs to get by. Around the corner from his home in Crown Heights, the Brooklyn neighborhood where Tomlin has lived his entire life, he ran into some friends near the corner of Schenectady and Lincoln Avenues outside the FM Brothers Discount store, its stock of buckets, mops, backpacks and toilet paper overflowing onto the sidewalk. As he and his friends caught up, two plainclothes officers from the New York Police Department’s Brooklyn North narcotics squad, recognizable by the badges on their belts and their bulletproof vests, paused outside the store. At the time, Tomlin thought nothing of it. ‘‘I’m not doing anything wrong,’’ he remembers thinking. ‘‘We’re just talking.’’
Tomlin broke off to go inside the store and buy a soda. The clerk wrapped it in a paper bag and handed him a straw. Back outside, as the conversation wound down, one of the officers called the men over. He asked one of Tomlin’s friends if he was carrying anything he shouldn’t; he frisked him. Then he turned to Tomlin, who was holding his bagged soda and straw. ‘‘He thought it was a beer,’’ Tomlin guesses. ‘‘He opens the bag up, it was a soda. He says, ‘What you got in the other hand?’ I says, ‘I got a straw that I’m about to use for the soda.’ ’’ The officer asked Tomlin if he had anything on him that he shouldn’t. ‘‘I says, ‘No, you can check me, I don’t have nothing on me.’ He checks me. He’s going all through my socks and everything.’’ The next thing Tomlin knew, he says, he was getting handcuffed. ‘‘I said, ‘Officer, what am I getting locked up for?’ He says, ‘Drug paraphernalia.’ I says, ‘Drug paraphernalia?’ He opens up his hand and shows me the straw.”
Stocking, an attorney with Brooklyn Defender Services, a public-defense office that represents 45,000 indigent clients a year, had picked up Tomlin’s case file a few minutes before interviewing him. The folder was fat, always a bad sign to a public defender. The documentation submitted by the arresting officer explained that his training and experience told him that plastic straws are “a commonly used method of packaging heroin residue.” The rest of the file contained Tomlin’s criminal history, which included 41 convictions, all of them, save the two decades-old felonies, for low-level nonviolent misdemeanors — crimes of poverty like shoplifting food from the corner store. With a record like that, Stocking told her client, the district attorney’s office would most likely ask the judge to set bail, and there was a good chance that the judge would do it. If Tomlin couldn’t come up with the money, he’d go to jail until his case was resolved.
Their conversation didn’t last long. On average, a couple of hundred cases pass through Brooklyn’s arraignment courtrooms every day, and the public defenders who handle the overwhelming majority of those cases rarely get to spend more than 10 minutes with each client before the defendant is called into court for arraignment. Before leaving, Stocking relayed what the assistant district attorney told her a few minutes earlier: The prosecution was prepared to offer Tomlin a deal. Plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of criminal possession of a controlled substance, serve 30 days on Rikers and be done with it. Tomlin said he wasn’t interested. A guilty plea would only add to his record and compound the penalties if he were arrested again. ‘‘They’re mistaken,’’ he told Stocking. ‘‘It’s a regular straw!’’ When the straw was tested by the police evidence lab, he assured her, it would show that he was telling the truth. In the meantime, there was no way he was pleading guilty to anything.
When it was Tomlin’s turn in front of the judge, events unfolded as predicted: The assistant district attorney handling the case offered him 30 days for a guilty plea. After he refused, the A.D.A. asked for bail. The judge agreed, setting it at $1,500. Tomlin, living paycheck to paycheck, had nothing like that kind of money. ‘‘If it had been $100, I might have been able to get that,’’ he said afterward. As it was, less than 24 hours after getting off work, Tomlin was on a bus to Rikers Island, New York’s notorious jail complex, where his situation was about to get a lot worse.
But the bail system wasn’t always this way.
When the concept first took shape in England during the Middle Ages, it was emancipatory. Rather than detaining people indefinitely without trial, magistrates were required to let defendants go free before seeing a judge, guaranteeing their return to court with a bond. If the defendant failed to return, he would forfeit the amount of the bond. The bond might be secured — that is, with some or all of the amount of the bond paid in advance and returned at the end of the trial — or it might not. In 1689, the English Bill of Rights outlawed the widespread practice of keeping defendants in jail by setting deliberately unaffordable bail, declaring that ‘‘excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed.’’ The same language was adopted word for word a century later in the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
When Sal Martinez, whose full name is Azael “Sal” Martinez Sonoquí, was sworn in on August 9, 2015, for his second term as a Los Angeles County Probation Commissioner, he insisted on having the ceremony take place inside LA’s Central Juvenile Hall, where he gave several dozen of the hall’s teenage residents front row seats at the well-attended festivities.
If some of the dignitaries, who were also in attendance, thought the place an unusual environment for a county official to give a party, Martinez, 45—whom personal friends often refer to as The Commish—soon disabused them of that notion. It perfectly symbolized the work he intended to do in his next round as commissioner and it was, after all, a location he knew intimately, he said.
The first time Martinez entered one of the county’s juvenile lock-ups was in 1984 when he was 14 years old. He’d been arrested for GTA—grand theft auto. He and a friend jacked somebody’s tricked out Ford truck right out of the owner’s driveway. They did so at the request of a chop shop owner who recruited young Martinez and his buddy to steal the vehicle for him. The chop shop crook even helpfully pointed out the exact truck he wanted. More accurately, it was the parts of the truck that he ardently desired.
However, while the underage thieves did manage to steal the truck, they did not deliver it.
“The police got us first,” Martinez told me. So the Ford owner got his truck back, and Martinez went to juvenile hall.
Martinez passed through the hall, as local kids then called LA County’s main short term juvenile facility, four more times. His last residence began in mid October, 1987, when he was seventeen. On that occasion, he’d just gotten out of Los Angeles County-USC hospital, where he’d been taken after he had been shot in the neck by a member of the Los Angeles Police Department. (In total, Martinez has been shot twice, and stabbed four times.) It was a gunshot that should have killed the teenager, but instead the wound was a through-and-through. The bullet entered on the right side of his neck, just under his ear, and emerged out the right back side of his neck, less than an inch from his spine. It’s trajectory just missing his carotid.
By that time Martinez had graduated from occasional lawbreaking to active gang membership and serious drug dealing. Interestingly, his drug dealing boss wasn’t an older gangster higher up on the gang food chain. His boss was his mother. In her daytime hours, she had a legal job sewing piece goods for Levi Strauss, Guess, and a few other downtown LA clothing manufacturers. With the rest of her time, she ran a wholesale rock and powder cocaine distribution business that supplied drugs to many of Boyle Heights’ most notorious street gangs. (His father, a Pentecostal minister, had long ago left the family.)
To juggle the legal and illegal sides of her life, the mom had all three of her sons on a well-organized schedule that she noted carefully on a calendar in the family kitchen. On the first week of every month—Sunday night through the following Sunday morning—Martinez’ elder brother made the drug deliveries. The second week was Sal’s. The third week belonged to his younger brother. The last week, the mom delivered the goods.
The day that Martinez was shot, his mother was scheduled to drop off an order of PCP to a woman client. But the woman, who was also supposedly a personal friend, had asked to meet her at State Street public park. It wasn’t Martinez’ week, and he was slated to take his younger brother to the doctor that day, but he would pass right by the park, so he agreed to do his mom a favor with the drug drop.
When he arrived at the designated area of the park, he spotted the woman standing near to her Mustang. But rather than come to meet him, she instead gestured toward him with her hand. A millisecond later, Martinez saw the hoards of cops that seemed to emerge from nowhere and everywhere at once, racing toward him in cars and on foot.
It was, of course, a sting. Martinez ran. As he ran, the drugs scheduled for delivery threatened to fall out of the pockets of his baggy Guess jeans. (His mother brought home Guess seconds for her sons.) Mid-run, he reached a hand toward the falling drugs hoping to secure them, and one of the officers shot him.
Despite his wounds, in less than a day, he was transferred in leg irons and chains, from the jail section of County USC Medical Center, to the infirmary of juvenile hall, where he remained for several weeks. When he’d recovered enough to go to court, he was sentenced to 7-9 months in county custody, and shipped to Camp Mendehall, a juvenile probation facility located in the chaparral-covered hills north of Castaic Lake and South of Lake Hugues. He liked the quiet of the place. As his release date approached in late May of 1988, Martinez became anxious. He didn’t want to go home. His mother had only visited him once in seven months and even then it was under duress. He desperately wanted to be done with his old gang and drug-dealing existence.
But he didn’t know what to do about it.
ENTER MARY RIDGWAY
Martinez met the person whom he credits with both rerouting and saving his life on the second to the last day of his term. That was when a probation officer who was scheduled to have his case after his upcoming release, showed up at camp. She was a formidable-looking, middle-aged blond with a penchant for amethyst-colored dresses, good jewelry, most notably jade, and was famous inside probation as the ne plus ultra of experts when it came to eastside gangs and gang members. Police came to her for insider information, not the reverse. Her name was Mary Ridgway.
At the time, Martinez, a natural leader, had been named camp “mayor.” When Ridgway bustled his direction, she said, with a challenging raise of one eyebrow, that she’d been looking forward to meeting this “mayor” she’d heard so much about. Before she left him, she told him he was not “meant for a life behind bars,” and that he had to come to see her first thing when he got out, but to come near the end of the day, as she would make him her last appointment
At the initial meeting in her office after his release, Ridgway read him the conditions of his probation, then told him she knew where he lived and that she could bust him at any time. Finally, she marched Martinez across the street and got him enrolled in an alternative school run by the Soledad Enrichment Action program.
After that, she never let up on him. In addition to the required weekly check-ins, she took him and other probationers on field trips to museums, movies, to try playing golf, whatever she thought would help. Her encouragement was relentless.
It worked. Martinez never dealt drugs again. Like the rare drunk who can quit cold turkey, Martinez simply walked away. ¡Ya estuvo! Enough was enough. He wanted something better.
His mother tried to talk him out of the straight life. ‘We need you,’ she said. His older brother told him he was a fool. But Martinez was finished. A year into his probation, he went to work for Sears for $5.04 an hour. He was proud of himself for doing it.
“I wanted Mary’s world,” he said.
In the years that followed, he got a good job working for a beverage distribution company, where he’s been for the last two decades. He got married, had kids, learned the joys of parenting, and began working evenings and weekends as a volunteer in the same communities where he’d once dealt drugs.
All the while, he stayed close to his former probation officer whom he regarded as his tough-talking surrogate mom, his mentor, his savior.
Although I’d heard about him for years from Ridgway, I met Martinez for the first time at Mary’s funeral where we talked urgently for more than an hour in the rain.
THE COMMISH BECOMES THE COMMISH
Even after her death, Ridgway’s impact on Martinez’ life continued. It was due to her influence, albeit through a series of quirky, back-door circumstances, that the former gangster/drug dealer—who, so to speak, broke good—was selected for his first term as an LA County Probation Commissioner.
Martinez’ road to the position commenced when he began working to find a way to appropriately honor the woman who meant so much to him—and to many other former gang members and at risk young men and woman.
(“I’d be dead if it weren’t for Ridgway,” was the common refrain among former homeboys and homegirls after news of the legendary PO and gang expert’s passing spread.)
With honoring her in mind, when Martinez heard that there were plans afoot to rename the East Los Angeles Probation Center after some politically-connected person or other, he contacted the office of then-LA County Supervisor Gloria Molina, and suggested that Ridgway was the ideal person for whom the place could be renamed. At first, exactly no one in a position of power warmed to the idea. Ridgway was, for one thing, a white lady and this was, after all, East LA. Even worse, nobody outside of law enforcement—and…well…gangsters and former gangsters—had ever heard of her. But Martinez was determined. Make that: unstoppable.
As the ongoing drama of the obstruction of Justice indictments against former members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department continues, the newest moment-of-interest is provided by the attorneys for former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, whose trial will commence this coming November.
Clearly the former undersheriff could use a new witness of his own.
Voila! On Friday, Tanaka’s attorney, Dean Seward, filed a motion asking the judge to step in because the federal prosecutors have declined to grant former Sheriff Lee Baca immunity so that he may testify at Tanaka’s trial without taking the fifth, which Baca’s attorneys have consistently said to anyone who asks is exactly what their client will do, absent immunity.
This is the same answer Baca and company has given to other attorneys of other federal defendants who wanted the former sheriff to testify at their trials.
When prosecutors Brandon Fox and Lizabeth Rhodes have been asked if they will make the immunity deal, they’ve evidently answered with the rough legal equivalent of “Are you freaking kidding us?! No! Of course, not!”
So Seward has turned to a higher power—namely Judge Percy Anderson—in the hope he will intervene. Anderson, who seemed to be irritated with Tanaka’s antics on the stand as a witness in the previous obstruction trials, is not likely to catch this pre-trial Hail Mary pass now that Tanaka is a defendent.
Nevertheless the argument in the text of the motion, which will be heard at the end of this month, is fascinating. Here’s a clip:
…Moreover, the prior prosecution of LASD deputy sheriffs by these same prosecutors in this same courtroom would never had occurred but for the actions of then Sheriff Leroy Baca.
But the Court and jury will never hear from Mr. Baca unless this Court intervenes. That is not because his testimony is not relevant. That is not because his testimony is not exculpatory. That is only because the government refuses to bestow the same inoculation against criminal prosecution that it has used with such vengeance to enable it to charge Mr. Tanaka.
As a result of the government’s inaction and refusal to immunize an exculpatory witness, Mr. Tanaka will be prevented from presenting a valid and relevant defense unless this Court intervenes. In order to enable the defendant to present the complete events and not rely on the incomplete version from the prosecution, this Court should grant this motion and order the government to give Leroy Baca use immunity for any testimony he may provide at trial.
The government cannot, at this late hour, argue that it has not had the opportunity to investigate the matter and determine who should be prosecuted. Logically, there’s only one person for whom prosecution is still possible: Leroy Baca. The events in this case occurred nearly 4 years ago. Multiple grand juries have been convened. The government and F.B.I. have interviewed hundreds of witnesses. Hundreds of thousands of pages of documents, exhibits, and recordings have been generated. To say the government does not have enough before it to choose whether to prosecute Mr. Baca makes no sense. The motion herein is not meant to force the government’s hand. But it is meant to force them to let Mr. Baca have his day in Court: either as a witness in Mr. Tanaka’s trial or as a co- defendant in this prosecution.
The government, by refusing to charge Mr. Baca or grant him immunity to testify in Mr. Tanaka’s trial, is exercising its immunity power not for legitimate prosecutorial purposes but to deny Mr. Tanaka a level playing field of evidence.
In other words: either indict Lee Baca or give him to us as a witness!
There is, of course, lots more after that.
The motion will be heard on September 28. So stay tuned.
AND IN OTHER NEWS….EXECUTIVES AT YET ANOTHER LA COUNTY FOSTER CARE GROUP HOME ARE CHARGED WITH EMBEZZLEMENT
Just about a year ago, LA District attorney Jackie Lacey announced that a husband and wife team was being charged with embezzling more than $460,000 in taxpayer money from a nonprofit agency hired by Los Angeles County’s Department of Children and Family services to help some of the harder to place abused and neglected foster children.
As in the district attorney’s recent case against leaders of the Little People’s World group home, the alleged wrongdoing at Moore’s Cottage may have festered for years as county officials ignored signs of financial mismanagement, records show.
“It’s my fault that we didn’t know more about it,” said Philip Browning, director of the Department of Children and Family Services.
The activities alleged in the lawsuit occurred before 2013, and Browning said they might have been prevented by an improved monitoring system the department put in place about a year ago.
Prosecutors filed the criminal charges against Batchelor and Smith in April with no public announcement. The district attorney’s office declined to comment.
The two men, who pleaded not guilty and are free on bail, declined to respond to requests for comment.
They are accused of embezzling more than $100,000 from the charity and damaging or destroying property in excess of $65,000. The lawsuit also accuses them of filing false personal tax returns in 2011, 2012 and 2013 — the same period in which they failed to file tax forms for Moore’s Cottage. In total, Moore’s Cottage owed $460,000 in delinquent federal payroll taxes as of September 2013.
A court petition for a search warrant filed this year by the district attorney’s office says that “Batchelor had no intention of paying payroll taxes with the money he withdrew. His sole purpose was to split the withdrawn money with Smith for personal gain.”
Staff members say that LA County’s Department of Children and Family Services’ last resort center for kids, known as the Youth Welcome Center, is spinning out of control.
WitnessLA has obtained the video posted above that was recorded this past Saturday, August 8, and shows three DCFS youth brawling with several of the center’s security guards, as the guards try to contain the kids. Staffers and others close to the center told us that the brawl that was caught on video is far from unusual, and that some kind of event of this nature occurs multiple times a week.
“it’s a tragedy waiting to happen,” said a Youth Welcome Center staff member who has worked with LA’s foster kids for decades.
According to DCFS spokesman Armand Montiel, while there have been other incidents, they were comparatively minor, and that this particular brawl was far more extreme than usual. But on Tuesday there was “a follow-up incident with the same youth,” said Montiel. The youth, who may have instigated the fight, has now been arrested.
The video triggered action by LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis, who issued a statement Friday afternoon directing the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) “to immediately implement key safety measures and protocols to ensure the safety and security of both the youth and personnel at the Welcome Center.”
The center is in Solis’ district and its problems have reportedly been on her radar for some time. But the alarming nature of the video reportedly caused the supervisor to decide that emergency action was called for—hence the statement.
“On the heels of a recent altercation between security guards and youth at the center,” Solis wrote, DCFS Director Philip Browning must “immediately help find alternative placement for the most at-risk minors, by providing the appropriate mental health services to address any issues with social-emotional behavior.”
ONCE A 23-HOUR HOLDING FACILITY NOW OFTEN A DROP-IN WAY-STATION FOR KIDS WITH NOWHERE TO GO
For those unfamiliar, the Youth Welcome Center and the Children’s Welcome Center are both emergency way stations that are the only LA County foster care facilities that turn no one away. The Children’s Welcome Center (CWC) opened in 2012 for DCFS children under 12, including infants. The Youth Welcome Center (YWC), opened in May 2014, and serves foster kids from 12 to 17, plus the “aged out” foster youth who, according to a law passed in 2010, AB 12, are eligible for various kinds of extended services that are supposed to help them get on their feet and enter adulthood successfully.
(Prior to AB 12, vulnerable foster care teenagers were abruptly asked to fend for themselves when they turned 18. The outcomes, statistically, were not good. AB 12 came into being with the intention of changing all that.)
The two centers, which are housed on the campus of Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, were designed essentially as holding stations for children and teenagers who are harder to place. The idea is that the kids would stay in a safe, welcoming, well-staffed environment while social workers found foster homes, or group homes, or extended family care where the youth can live longer term.
However, many of the kids whom the YWC serves cannot be placed easily. Some suffer from mental illness or severe emotional vulnerabilities. Some are on psychotropic medication, which they may or may not be taking. Others are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender kids who’ve been subject to abuse or extreme bullying. Still others are kids who have been sex-trafficked. Most have been tossed out of string of foster homes and/or group homes.
None of the kids are supposed to be in the YWC for more than 23 hours. But over the weekend, the 23-hour rule is relaxed or waved. And, in many cases, the kids check out within the 23 hour time frame, then check back in the next night. When the revolving door kids return to YWC, they may be high, they may be stressed. Sometimes some of he youngerthe girls–according to staff—come back with unexplained cash, and tales of “dates,” with men that on of the older girls set up.
“The longer the Youth Welcome Center has been open,” said DCFS spokesman Armand Montiel, “the more it has become a destination for youth who,” for one reason or another, “are choosing not to stay in placement.” They look at the YWC as a “waystaytion, a respite” from all they’re dealing with.
And therein lies the rub say, staff. While the YWC provides an essential service to some of LA County’s most fragile youth, its present organization is a recipe for trouble. A staffer who asked not to be named said that to throw together in one small facility, kids of both genders, who range in age from 12-years-old to 21-years-old, many of whom have such formidable vulnerabilities, where they can essentially come and go with few restrictions… “It’s asking for trouble.” she said.
“We have one bathroom that is considered the youth bathroom, and one shower,” the staff member said. “Imagine. We have anywhere from sixteen to twenty-three kids.” The staff has a system for bathroom use and basic grooming. But showers are difficult, except when there’s a special need.”
DCFS is aware of the issues and is looking for a solution, said Montiel. The release of the video “just intensified the conversation. it’s a vivid example of how things can go wrong. We need to be better prepared with ways to keep our youth safe and our staff safe.”