On Tuesday, Supervisor Mark-Ridley Thomas surprised advocates at this week’s board of supervisors meeting with a welcome and very timely motion to identify and set aside at least $20 million in county funds for a mental health diversion program.
In the motion, Ridley-Thomas pointed out that diversion “was a missing component of the adopted nearly $2 billion dollar jail master plan.” And yet, he noted, only a proposed $3 million was set aside for it.
“Considering that the Board-approved jail construction plan is estimated to cost $2B, the proposed investment in diversion is inadequate by comparison.”
(Um. Ya think?)
Ridley-Thomas also spelled out the fact that the claim that diversion will save money and lower LA’s jail population is hardly conjecture, that there is plenty of precedent to guide us, like, for example, “….New York City’s Nathaniel Project with a reported 70% reduction in arrests over a two-year period; Chicago’s Thresholds program with an 89% reduction in arrests, 86% reduction in jail time, and a 76% reduction in hospitalization for program participant; and Seattle’s FACT program with a 45% reduction in jail and prison bookings. The Miami-Dade County program, with access to community-based services and supportive housing resources, has reduced recidivism from 75% to 20% for program participants….”
MRT’s motion seemed well-timed for passage, coming as it did a day after Long Beach police chief and candidate for sheriff, Jim McDonnell, called on LA County to “fund and promote an effective network of treatment programs for the mentally ill which will provide them with the support, compassion and services they need to avoid our justice system.”
It also followed LA District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s scheduled report to the board on Tuesday.
Lacey—the LA official who has taken the lead on the push for mental health diversion (and thereby conveyed to the concept an important validity due to her position in law enforcement)—gave a fact-laden presentation that was also often genuinely impassioned.
For example, there was this:
“There’s also a moral question at hand in this process. Are we punishing people for simply being sick? Public safety should have a priority, but justice should always come first. If you are in a mental state that you hurt others, then the justice system has to do what it can to protect the public. but there are many who do not fall into that category. When we over incarcerate those…We merely act on fear and ignorance…”
And then later:
“My position is that of being in the criminal justice system for nearly 30 years as a prosecutor. It’s like groundhog day. We continue to have the same reaction in the prosecutor’s office, which is to put people into jail. Punish, punish, punish. And if our recidivism rate in this state is 70 percent….we are failing. We are failing! All we are doing is warehousing people and putting them back out!”
And the number of mentally ill warehoused is growing, she said. “The percentage of inmates who are mentally ill has increased by nearly 89 percent since 2011.” And “…we see the same people over and over again after they have been treated in the jail and released.”
Like Ridley-Thomas, Lacey pointed to the existing programs elsewhere that make clear that LA need not be stuck in such a cycle of knee-jerk failure. “We know when we look at other jurisdictions such as Miami Dade and Memphis, we are not doing what we could and should be doing to divert those who are mentally ill out of the system.
In the end, the board thanked Lacey profusely and elected to put off voting on Ridley-Thomas’s motion until next week. But the reception by at least some supervisors, notably Zev Yaroslavsky, was demonstrably positive.
“I think it’s critical that we do this,” Yaroslavsky said. “It kind of came to a head a few weeks ago when the majority of the board vote to undertake the study of a $2 billion jail. These kinds of programs would not necessarily mitigate the need for a replacement jail, but it might mitigate the need for the size of jail we have….”
Let us hope that next week the board as a whole follows through with real commitment through their vote.
LA INVESTING $20M IN PARENT-CHILD INTERACTION THERAPY TO IMPROVE CHILD SAFETY
The taxpayer initiative First 5 LA is putting $20 million toward expanding Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT), a program aimed at preventing child maltreatment by providing educating parents in a therapeutic environment. Through the new funding, between 320 and 400 new PCIT therapists will be trained to give one-on-one live parenting instruction to moms and dads at risk of having their kids taken away from them. During the 12 to 14 therapy sessions, a parent sits and plays with their child while receiving coaching cues in an earpiece from a therapist watching from another room.
The Chronicle of Social Change’s Christie Renick has more on PCIT and the county’s efforts to reform LA County’s child welfare system. Here’s the opening:
Last month, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors began implementing the recommendations made by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection, which calls for augmented child maltreatment prevention efforts.
While implementation of the commission’s many recommendations is a long-term venture, leaders are hoping that the rollout of a maltreatment prevention initiative may improve child safety in the short-term.
First 5 LA, a taxpayer-supported initiative that provides a variety of services to families with young children in Los Angeles County, is investing $20 million in child maltreatment prevention with a five-year-long therapist-training program known as Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT).
The goal is to train up to 400 PCIT practitioners through the state. First 5 LA’s PCIT grant is in partnership with the county’s Department of Mental Health, through which PCIT providers can access state-funded reimbursement for services.
PCIT emphasizes improving the quality of the parent-child relationship through one-on-one live coaching. During a PCIT session, a parent-child pair plays and interacts in a therapy room while the therapist watches through a one-way mirror and guides their interactions using a discrete earpiece worn by the parent. PCIT is typically delivered in a series of 12 to 14 sessions and is broken into two main parts, Relationship Enhancement and Strategies to Improve Compliance.
In Los Angeles, PCIT is being made available to families at risk of becoming involved with the child welfare system, or who have open cases but are not currently in the process of having their parental rights terminated.
After linking a lack of prevention services with “an excessive number of referrals and investigations” and high caseloads in the county’s dependency court system, the Blue Ribbon Commission’s final report, issued in April, called on the county’s board of supervisors to direct the Department of Public Health and First 5 LA to jointly develop a comprehensive prevention plan.
By training hundreds of clinicians and therapists who will serve thousands of families in the county, this will be the largest PCIT initiative since its development in the early 1970s, a prospect that excites researchers close to the strategy.
“The prospect of prevention is very powerful because we’ve shown the parents, with PCIT…[they] can change and become positive, nurturing, sensitive parents who can set limits with their children in a safe and effective way,” said Cheryl McNeil, a professor of psychology at West Virginia University. “Prevention efforts with PCIT encourage parents to use highly positive parenting tools before they get into negative interactions with their children.”
LASD RE-ENTRY CENTER HELPS THOSE RELEASED FROM JAIL WITH TRANSITION BACK TO THEIR COMMUNITIES
The LASD-run Community Re-entry Resource Center opened late in May to help recently released LA County jail inmates successfully re-enter their communities. The Resource Center helps former inmates get connected with things like food stamps, mental health services, substance abuse programs, and employment services. This is a welcome step in the direction of accomplishing one of realignment’s goals: reducing recidivism.
The 40-year-old man in the black jacket and jeans was getting out of jail with no money and no place to live.
As he left the county jail complex in downtown Los Angeles, he stopped at the new Community Re-entry Resource Center, where he received a bus token and a referral to a homeless shelter. The man, who would give only his first name, David, got a phone number for the police so he could see whether his car had been impounded while he was imprisoned.
The center, which opened at the end of May and is run by the Sheriff’s Department, helps people leaving the jails adjust to life on the outside, in hope they won’t come back again.
Newly released inmates get assistance with food stamps, mental health services and health insurance. A probation officer is on hand, along with officials from various county departments. The nonprofits HealthRight 360 and Volunteers of America offer referrals to job centers and substance abuse programs.
“They go back to their old neighborhood and fall into the same trap, with the same friends, and they end up right back in jail,” said Sgt. Joaquin Soto. “We’re trying to avoid that.”
David said he was behind bars for six days after missing a court appearance related to a drug offense. But that was enough to set him back. He had been living out of his car and has no family in the area. He needed something to tide him over until he started a new job in a few days.
“They’re helping me out at just the right time,” he said.
Inside the jails, the sheriff’s Community Transition Unit provides similar services. On the way out, the drop-in reentry center offers a final chance for newly released inmates to get the services they need, said sheriff’s officials and reentry experts.
Petersilia recommends a number of legislative tweaks to the realignment plan, including mandatory split-sentencing for all felony sentences served in county jails, statewide tracking of all offenders, and jail sentences to max out at three years.
When California embarked on a sweeping prison realignment plan in 2011, The Economist described it as one of the “great experiments in American incarceration policy.”
The challenge was to shift inmates from overcrowded state prisons to jails in California’s 58 counties.
At this point, the results are mixed and the “devil will be in the details” as tweaks to the original legislation are urged, according to new research by a Stanford law professor.
“Only time will tell whether California’s realignment experiment will fundamentally serve as a springboard to change the nation’s overreliance on prisons,” wrote Stanford Law School Professor Joan Petersilia, a leading expert on prison realignment, in her article in the Harvard Law and Policy Review. “It is an experiment the whole nation is watching.”
“If it works, California … will have shown that it can downsize prisons safely by transferring lower-level offenders from state prisons to county systems. … If it does not work, counties will have simply been overwhelmed with inmates, unable to fund and/or operate the programs those felons needed, resulting in rising crime, continued criminality and jail overcrowding,” wrote Petersilia, co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center.
Petersilia urges legislative revisions to California’s realignment plan (some are now under discussion in the legislature). Suggestions include:
Requiring that all felony sentences served in county jail be split between time behind bars and time under supervised release (probation), unless a judge deems otherwise
Allowing an offender’s entire criminal background to be reviewed when deciding whether the county or state should supervise them
Capping county jail sentences at a maximum of three years
Allowing for certain violations, such as those involving domestic restraining orders or sex offenses, to be punished with state prison sentences
Creating a statewide tracking system for all offenders
Collecting data at the county and local level on what is and is not working in realignment
She said several counties are taking advantage of split sentencing with promising results. Still, only 5 percent of felons in Los Angeles County have their sentences split. She called this type of flexibility “extraordinarily important” to realignment, as it would lessen space and cost burdens for counties.
SUPE RIDLEY-THOMAS AND OTHER LEADERS TO ANNOUNCE SUPPORT FOR JIM MCDONNELL IN LA SHERIFF RACE
Today at 9:30a.m., LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and more than a dozen other South LA leaders will gather at Southern Missionary Baptist Church to announce their support for LBPD Chief Jim McDonnell for LA County Sheriff.
On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors will consider the issue of how best to help LA County’s mentally ill from two different perspectives.
First of all the supervisors are expected to vote to expand and fund something called the Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT) Demonstration Project Act of 2002—more commonly known as Laura’s Law.
Although Laura’s Law was passed by the California legislature in 2002, the statute was controversial, thus the state gave counties the option of adopting it or not.
In brief, Laura’s Law allows a family member, roommate, mental health provider, police officer or probation officer to ask the court to order a seriously mentally ill person into outpatient treatment. The law only applies to a narrow subset of people—namely the mentally ill who have landed in jail or in hospitals, or who appear to be a danger to themselves or others, but who don’t qualify for a “5150,” which mandates a psych hold. Moreover, the court can issue such an order for treatment only after an extensive and multi-layered review process.
Los Angeles and Yolo Counties already have pilot programs. Orange County has adopted the whole thing, as has Nevada County, which was where the law originated.
San Francisco approved the provision last Tuesday.
If the LA supervisors approve the expansion of the Laura’s Law pilot,—as they are expected to do—the county is expected to do approximately 500 evaluations for the program per year (up from around 50 evaluations per year during the pilot period). The expanded program would allow for around 300 people to be enrolled in outpatient treatment any given time (up from 20), plus 60 crisis residential beds.
Some mental health advocates have been adamantly opposed to Laura’s Law maintaining that it not only violates the rights of the mentally ill, it also compromises any therapeutic relationship by forcing people into treatment.
Some of the main supporters of Laura’s Law have been family members who say they need better tools to keep their loved ones out of jail, and off the street when they are too ill to realize they need treatment.
Supervisor Supervisor Michael Antonovich has been the board’s lead supporter for Laura’s Law.
NOW WHAT ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSION?
The second important discussion at Tuesday’s meeting regarding mental health will be centered on a board-requested status report from District Attorney Jackie Lacey, in which she is expected to present recommendations for “the next interim steps to be taken for mental health diversion in Los Angeles County.”
Although most of the board members seem to be, at least in general theory, for the notion of diverting some of LA County’s non-violent mentally ill away from the jails and into community treatment, the supes have been short on action on the matter. A couple of months ago, however, after voting to go ahead with a giant jail expansion plan, the board did pass a motion by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas to ask DA Lacey to produce a 60-day progress report about what might be done with this whole diversion matter—hence Tuesday’s presentation. Yet, since the board has since showed no interest in factoring diversion into their calculations when ordering up a new jail, it was hard to view their commitment to the matter as full-throated.
Thus it was heartening when, on Monday, Long Beach Chief of Police and candidate for LA County Sheriff, Jim McDonnell, put out a strong policy statement supporting Lacey’s work and calling in no-nonsense terms for LA County to “fund and promote an effective network of treatment programs for the mentally ill which will provide them with the support, compassion and services they need to avoid our justice system.”
In other words, it’s time for a firm commitment by the county.
“Our Sheriff’s Department currently runs what amounts to the largest mental health institution in the nation,” wrote McDonnell, “yet our jails are not a place for those who are suffering from mental illness and who would be better served by community-based treatment options that can address the underlying problems, while still maintaining community safety. I applaud District Attorney Jackie Lacey for her leadership and her vision in developing a comprehensive plan for mental health diversion in Los Angeles County.
McDonnell also praised the recent report released by the ACLU and the Bazelon Center for Mental Health,—which provided research showing why diversion works far better for non-violent inmates, and outlined the success of diversion programs in Miami-Dade and San Francisco. (Note: The ACLU report has already drawn support from organizations and individuals such as Chairman of the LA Police Commission, Steve Soboroff.)
As for the nuts and bolts of how he would aid in getting a comprehensive diversion program funded if he is elected to head the sheriff’s department, McDonnell said that the position of sheriff offers the “influence and the ability” to help “create priorities in the county.” He also stressed that all funding need not come from the county alone, that he’d seek out other sources—noting that once those sources saw that formerly siloed groups like the sheriff’s department, the DA’s office and the board of supervisors were able to “talk to each other” and work “collaboratively and strategically” on the issue, funds were far more likely to be forthcoming.
“I think what we do here will be watched carefully by other jurisdictions across the state, and really across the country,” said McDonnell.
We think so too.
All the more reason to get going sooner rather than later.
PS: IF WE NEED ONE MORE REASON TO PUSH HARD AND SOON for a robust mental health diversion program, let us not forget that, in June, the U.S. Department of Justice found that Los Angeles County violates the constitutional rights of inmates by failing to provide adequate mental health care and appropriate suicide prevention policies in its jails. The DOJ also encouraged the county’s efforts to expand diversion programs for those inmates with mental illness.
AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE TOPIC: BRUTAL ATTACKS BY STAFF ON MENTALLY ILL INMATES IN NY’S RIKER’S ISLAND “COMMON OCCURRENCES”
As the LA County Board of Supervisors considers the above issues pertaining to LA County’s mentally ill, the results of a 4-month investigation into violence by staff against the mentally ill of Riker’s Island (the nation’s second largest jail) seemed perfectly—and painfully—timed to demonstrate the problem with using jails as default mental health facilities.
Here’s a clip from the opening of the alarming NY Times report, written by Michael Winerip and Michael Schwirtz:
After being arrested on a misdemeanor charge following a family dispute last year, Jose Bautista was unable to post $250 bail and ended up in a jail cell on Rikers Island.
A few days later, he tore his underwear, looped it around his neck and tried to hang himself from the cell’s highest bar. Four correction officers rushed in and cut him down. But instead of notifying medical personnel, they handcuffed Mr. Bautista, forced him to lie face down on the cell floor and began punching him with such force, according to New York City investigators, that he suffered a perforated bowel and needed emergency surgery.
Just a few weeks earlier, Andre Lane was locked in solitary confinement in a Rikers cellblock reserved for inmates with mental illnesses when he became angry at the guards for not giving him his dinner and splashed them with either water or urine. Correction officers handcuffed him to a gurney and transported him to a clinic examination room beyond the range of video cameras where, witnesses say, several guards beat him as members of the medical staff begged for them to stop. The next morning, the walls and cabinets of the examination room were still stained with Mr. Lane’s blood.
The assaults on Mr. Bautista and Mr. Lane were not isolated episodes. Brutal attacks by correction officers on inmates — particularly those with mental health issues — are common occurrences inside Rikers, the country’s second-largest jail, a four-month investigation by The New York Times found.
Reports of such abuses have seldom reached the outside world, even as alarm has grown this year over conditions at the sprawling jail complex. A dearth of whistle-blowers, coupled with the reluctance of the city’s Department of Correction to acknowledge the problem and the fact that guards are rarely punished, has kept the full extent of the violence hidden from public view.
But The Times uncovered details on scores of assaults through interviews with current and former inmates, correction officers and mental health clinicians at the jail, and by reviewing hundreds of pages of legal, investigative and jail records. Among the documents obtained by The Times was a secret internal study completed this year by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which handles medical care at Rikers, on violence by officers. The report helps lay bare the culture of brutality on the island and makes clear that it is inmates with mental illnesses who absorb the overwhelming brunt of the violence.
The study, which the health department refused to release under the state’s Freedom of Information Law, found that over an 11-month period last year, 129 inmates suffered “serious injuries” — ones beyond the capacity of doctors at the jail’s clinics to treat — in altercations with correction department staff members.
The report cataloged in exacting detail the severity of injuries suffered by inmates: fractures, wounds requiring stitches, head injuries and the like. But it also explored who the victims were. Most significantly, 77 percent of the seriously injured inmates had received a mental illness diagnosis….
IMPORTANT CALIFORNIA HIGH COURT RULING LOOSENS INTERPRETATION OF THREE-STRIKES LAW
Late last week, the California Supreme Court eased the interpretation of the Three Strikes law, ruling that two strikes cannot come from a single offense carrying two felony convictions. In this particular case, a woman received her first and second (of three) strikes for stealing a car, for which she was convicted of carjacking and robbery.
The judges made their ruling in the case of a woman who had been charged with two felonies – carjacking and robbery – for the same offense of stealing a car, saying that the legislature and the voters clearly intended for defendants to have three chances to redeem themselves before they are put away for life.
“The voting public would reasonably have understood the ‘Three Strikes’ baseball metaphor to mean that a person would have three chances – three swings of the bat if you will – before the harshest penalty could be imposed,” Associate Justice Kathryn Werdegar wrote in the court’s opinion, released late on Thursday. “The public also would have understood that no one can be called for two strikes on just one swing.”
The ruling is a significant one, as it has the potential to change the fate of other third-striker inmates who are locked up for life after having picked up multiple strikes for the same offense.
Melanie Dorian, the criminal defense lawyer who represented defendant Darlene A. Vargas in the case, said the ruling could lead to the release of numerous inmates convicted of more than one felony for the same act.
“This is a great case because it clarifies what the ‘Three Strikes’ law means,” Dorian said. “A single criminal act that can technically violate two statutes of the penal code cannot later be used as two strikes.”
CALIFORNIA TO TRACK FOSTER STUDENTS ATTENDANCE AND PROGRESS FOR DISTRICT FUNDING FORMULA
Starting with the 2014-2015 school year, California school districts will count and track foster and low-income students (as well as those learning English as a second language), as part of a new budget formula to give school districts funds to provide better learning experiences to disadvantaged kids. Schools will begin reporting foster kids’ attendance, test scores, and graduation progress—a crucial step toward improving outcomes for the state’s most vulnerable population.
Until now, no state has attempted to identify every foster child in its public schools or to systematically track their progress, much less funnel funds toward those students or require school districts to show they are spending the money effectively.
That changed in California this month as part of a new school funding formula that will direct billions of extra dollars to districts based on how many students they have with low family incomes, learning to speak English or in foster care.
The state’s 1,043 school systems had to submit plans by July 1 for how they intend to use the funds, a pot projected to reach at least $9.3 billion by 2021, to increase or improve services for those specific student groups.
During the next school year, districts also will have to report on their foster children’s absences, progress toward graduation, standardized test scores and other measures they already maintain for the other two target groups.
The moves are significant for an estimated 42,000 school-age foster children, less than 1 percent of the state’s 6.2 million public school students, said Molly Dunn, a lawyer with the Alliance for Children’s Rights, a Los Angeles-based advocacy group.
It means educators and elected officials have recognized the group is facing unique educational hardships from abuse or neglect, frequent moves and experiences in foster or group homes, Dunn said.
AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT…
The LA Times’ Sandy Banks has a heartening story about Jamilah Sims and her sisters, three resilient foster children who are all heading to college in the fall, and United Friends of the Children, the nonprofit that is helping the Sims sisters and other foster kids go to (and finish) college. Here’s how it opens:
Jamilah Sims became a mother at 14 — just as she was entering foster care for the third time, because of her own mother’s instability.
She and two sisters — the girls are triplets — have grown accustomed to packing up, moving in with strangers, leaving friends, changing schools. They lived in five different foster homes over the years.
But they’re also growing accustomed to a measure of success that’s absent in the typical narrative of foster system teens.
All three graduated from high school last month and are headed for college, with advice, support and financial help from United Friends of the Children, a nonprofit that’s been helping foster children complete college for more than 25 years.
One sister will attend New Mexico State University to study communications. Another will begin working toward a business degree at Santa Monica City College. And Jamilah will be toting her 3-year-old son Carter to Cal State Bakersfield, where she will study to become an anesthesiologist.
The girls were among 187 high school grads from the foster care system whose hard work and good grades were celebrated last month at a ceremony at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Dozens received college scholarships from a pot that totaled more than $1 million.
The graduates’ personal stories reflect parental stumbles, teenage resilience and the collective efforts of families, friends and foster parents, who helped them battle their demons, nurture their talents and endure whatever hardships they could not outrun.
One young woman spent part of her adolescence squatting in abandoned houses; she’s attending Yale this fall. Another was abused by her stepfather and wound up addicted to drugs; she’ll be majoring in psychology at UC Santa Cruz. A young man who never knew his father and was abandoned by his mother will be moving to Spain to study dance at the Institute of the Arts in Barcelona.
Their scholarships will pay for the sorts of things most freshmen take for granted: a suitcase for a student who has never traveled, clothes warm enough for a winter at a Snow Belt college, and, for Jamilah, college textbooks and her very first computer.
No more rushing through homework on the library computer, so she could race to day care in time to pick up her son…
WHY A CITIZENS COMMISSION SHOULD BE CREATED RIGHT AWAY, AND WHAT IT SHOULD LOOK LIKE
In November, the LA County Board of Supervisors chose Max Huntsman to fill the new role of Inspector General for the sheriff’s department. The Supes haven’t yet figured out what kind of access to confidential department documents Hunstman will have. (More about that here.)
At the same time, the Supervisors are considering forming a separate citizens commission to watch over the department. Both IG Huntsman and interim Sheriff John Scott have advised the board against forming the commission before a new sheriff takes control of the sheriff’s dept. in November. (We at WLA are glad that sheriff-frontrunner Jim McDonnell is in favor of establishing a citizen’s commission.)
An LA Times editorial says the commission should be created immediately, in combination with the Office of Inspector General—not as an “afterthought,” so that the two work together to oversee the department. Here are some clips:
…in creating the IG position, the supervisors withheld two vital features: a set term of office and protection from being fired without good cause.
It is now clear that the board should set up the commission right away, even as it completes the build-out of the inspector general’s office. To do otherwise — to determine the inspector general’s scope of access to internal sheriff’s department documents and to decide whether the IG will have something tantamount to an attorney-client relationship with the sheriff, the board or the county — would be senseless without first knowing whether the IG will report to an oversight body. A commission would become an afterthought to an inspector general who already would have established protocols and privileges. Those properly should be hammered out in cooperation with the commission.
The board should make it clear now that it will establish a citizens oversight commission to work in tandem with the inspector general, with both parts and the Board of Supervisors being interlinked gears in an integrated oversight mechanism.
The citizens oversight commission should instead have nine members, with five board appointees supplemented by four either picked by the first five from a pool of names assembled, perhaps, by Superior Court judges or mayors from the county’s contract cities in consultation with community advocates, or directly appointed by authorities outside the ambit of either the sheriff or the Board of Supervisors.
Members should serve staggered, non-renewable terms, much like the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission. They should be exempt from removal — and therefore from political pressure — by the appointing authority or anyone else absent a showing of good cause. The number of appointees, the diversity of the appointing authorities and restrictions on tenure and removal would allow the commission to operate with necessary independence without becoming a runaway jury. It would keep commissioners from being either puppets or persecutors.
HAWAII PASSES JUVENILE ANTI-RECIDIVISM BILL, IS ALREADY REINVESTING EXPECTED SAVINGS ON REHABILITATION
Earlier this month, Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie signed two meaningful juvenile justice bills into law. One bill ended life without parole sentences for kids. The other is an anti-recidivism bill that will require corrections officers to write “reentry plans” before releasing incarcerated kids, and also changes juvenile probation requirements.
The state is so optimistic that the legislation will successfully lower recidivism, that it has already begun spending a portion of estimated savings on rehabilitative programs.
Hawaii, where 75 percent of youths released from the state’s juvenile correctional facility are sentenced or convicted again within three years, is trying to crack down on recidivism.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed a bill Thursday aimed at reducing the state’s juvenile facility population by over half in five years. HB2490 calls for justice system officials to write “reentry plans” before juveniles are released from correctional facilities and revises probation requirements.
Should the plan successfully lower recidivism rates, Hawaii could save an estimated $11 million, the governor’s office said. The state is already betting on it, investing $1.26 million from its anticipated savings in “proven programs” like mental health and substance abuse treatment.
SHERIFF SCOTT PUSHES FOR INSPECTOR GENERAL AND LASD TO HAVE ATTORNEY-CLIENT PRIVILEGE
Back in November, the LA County Board of Supervisors selected Max Huntsman to fill the newly established role of Inspector General for the Sheriff’s Department. County officials are still trying to establish what kind of access Huntsman will have to sensitive department data.
Interim Sheriff John Scott is urging the Supes to bind Huntsman to the LASD in an attorney-client relationship to protect confidential department information.
Aides to the Supes and other officials say the attorney-client privilege is not necessary, and would only impede the Inspector General’s ability to independently oversee the department. (We at WLA strongly agree, and would also rather the new sheriff make these recommendations, rather than the interim sheriff.)
Interim Sheriff John Scott wants the inspector general to be bound by an attorney-client relationship with his department, so that confidential information shared with Huntsman as part of his investigations can’t be subpoenaed or released to the public.
“Absent an Attorney-Client relationship my desire to cooperate with the OIG will remain consistently high, but my actual ability to share information will be impaired and will need to be determined on a case-by-case basis,” Scott said in a statement Wednesday.
Past civilian monitors of the Sheriff’s Department have functioned under an attorney-client relationship. Sheriff’s officials said attorneys from outside the county had advised Scott to set up a similar relationship with the inspector general, although the county’s top attorney advised that such an arrangement wasn’t necessary.
At a public meeting Wednesday, aides to the supervisors opposed the sheriff’s proposal, saying it would impede Huntsman’s independence.
“The [inspector general] is being put into place to be a monitor, oversight, and distant from your organization,” Joseph Charney, a deputy to Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, told sheriff’s officials. “We’re concerned about that.”
Some county officials argued that attorney-client privilege would not apply, in any case, since the inspector general would not be giving legal advice to the sheriff. They said other state laws already protect the confidentiality of sensitive information.
The Supervisors are also in the midst of deciding whether to create a civilian oversight commission to watch over the department. On Thursday, Long Beach Police Chief and Sheriff candidate frontrunner Jim McDonnell released a statement in support of forming a citizen’s commission. McDonnell seems to be far more in favor of independent oversight than what we’ve seen from Sheriff Scott. Here is a clip:
“Later this month, the Board of Supervisors will consider whether to create a civilian commission to oversee the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. I support this concept and believe that there is great value in creating an independent civilian oversight body that would enable the voice of the community to be part of the LASD’s pathway forward. A civilian commission can provide an invaluable forum for transparency and accountability, while also restoring and rebuilding community trust in the constitutional operation of the LASD.
The Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence, on which I served, underscored the need for comprehensive and independent monitoring of the LASD and its jails and recommended the creation of an Office of Inspector General (the “OIG”) – an entity that is now in the process of formation. While our Commission opted not to express any view regarding a civilian commission, I believe that the time has come for the creation of an empowered and independent citizens’ commission to oversee and guide the work of the OIG and help move the Department beyond past problems.
Though a civilian oversight commission may be a new concept for LASD, it is not new to me or to law enforcement in general. Indeed, I spent many of my 29 years at the LAPD working with its citizens’ Police Commission. I have also worked with a citizens’ commission as Chief of Police in Long Beach. I have seen first-hand the value of empowering the community’s voice and welcome the opportunity to work with the Board of Supervisors, legal experts and community groups in developing the best possible model of civilian oversight for the LASD.
While I encourage the Board of Supervisors, for all of these reasons, to move forward now with the approval of this concept, I believe that it is important to take the necessary time, and obtain expert guidance, to ensure that a newly created citizens’ commission has the structure, independence and resources to function effectively. In particular, I would urge serious consideration of a structure that would include not simply individuals appointed by the Board of Supervisors, but also other appointing authorities (that might include justice system partners and community stakeholders). To ensure their full independence and autonomy, serious consideration should be given to having commission members serve a set term of years and be empowered to select their own staff and leadership. The OIG, in carrying out the commission’s work, should have full access to LASD facilities, records and personnel, as allowed by existing law. These issues should be worked out in tandem with the development of the OIG, so that both entities can be part of a cohesive new civilian oversight structure. As noted above, it is my view that the commission should oversee and guide the work of the OIG, while also acting as a bridge to the community and a vehicle for the transparent airing of markers of progress in regard to moving LASD beyond past problems.
COMBATTING CHILDHOOD TRAUMA IN A DISADVANTAGED NEIGHBORHOOD
San Francisco’s Bayview district is best known for its gun violence, drugs, pollution and poverty, and not much else. But a community health clinic’s radical approach to healing children may change all that by turning the impoverished neighborhood into an epicenter for trauma-informed care.
Pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris transformed her Bayview clinic to incorporate a growing body of research linking emotional and physical abuse, neglect and household dysfunction to a long list of poor health and societal outcomes later in life. The stress that arises from chronic exposure to trauma is so severe that it is called toxic stress, which can alter a child’s developing brain and body.
Since Burke Harris began treating patients struggling with toxic stress, she and her wellness center have become a fixture in the childhood trauma world: with glowing descriptions in news articles, and most recently a proposed California resolution to include the science of childhood trauma and toxic stress into the state’s policy vernacular.
“Nadine Burke Harris is a natural leader. She’s just wonderful,” said Esta Soler, president of Futures Without Violence, a organization advocating for trauma-informed policies on a national level. “Center for Youth Wellness is an incredible organization, a laboratory that will help many young people and families living with a lot of adversity.”
Soler said she hopes what Burke Harris is doing in the Bayview will inspire other leaders across the nation to apply child trauma research to their work with children.
…the wellness center acts like an oasis for traumatized children. The roughly 1,000 children who visit the pediatrics office each year are screened using the Adverse Childhood Experiences scoring system, or ACEs. In 1998, researchers Robert Anda and Vincent Filletti released a blockbuster study linking child trauma to future health problems. The more the trauma the greater the likelihood a person will develop health and behavioral problems as an adult. They created the ACE score to measure instances of adverse experiences, like a child who is sexually abused by a parent, living with an alcoholic family member, a parent diagnosed with a mental health illness or having an incarcerated father are all traumatic instances calculated into a score. The higher the score the more likely that the patient would end up with health problems and even an early death. Patients with an ACE of score of 3 or 4 are sent to the Wellness Center for further help.
Loftus said she expects to see 300 kids this year. Most kids treated at the center have a 3 or 4 ACEs score, but the range is from 0 to 8. The wellness center works with the child and family to design an individualized response to the toxic stress. The treatment usually involves education about adverse childhood experiences and how toxic stress can alter a child’s brain, therapy for coping with stress, better eating habits, exercise and biofeedback—where sensors are attached the body to identify stress points in an effort to teach the patient to avoid stressful situations.
LA COUNTY PROGRAM HELPS EX-OFFENDERS SUCCESSFULLY REENTER COMMUNITY THROUGH MENTORING AND TRAINING
Emerging Leaders Academy, a Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department reentry program, empowers former offenders to become self-reliant and successful through mentoring and education and employment services.
Only 11% of 700 participants have been locked up again after graduating the program (in stark contrast to the 75% recidivism rate in California).
Something strange happened to Carlos Duarte the day he attended an Emerging Leaders Academy eight weeks ago largely to get a glimpse of some pretty ladies.
A gang member slathered head to foot in tattoos, he’d spent the past 18 years in a California prison on an attempted-murder beef. He hated cops. And he’d just been busted for heroin.
What the 34-year-old ex-con stumbled into was an ember of hope in an empowerment program run by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. He donned a tie and a sleeveless argyle sweater, and he now beams at being called Mr. Duarte.
“I went in to talk to girls,” said Duarte, now living at Cri-Help, a drug treatment program in North Hollywood. “And instead I found self-worth, self-confidence — and my life became meaningful.”
The Boyle Heights resident was among 48 “emerging leaders” gathering at the Agape International Spiritual Center in Culver City on Wednesday for their graduation from the sheriff’s celebrated empowerment, learning and jobs program, part of the department’s Education-Based Incarceration Bureau.
They had participated in some very bad things, done drugs, gone to prison, become estranged from decent friends and family. Most of all, all agreed they’d become strangers to their true “right” selves.
In eight weeks’ time — and daily Emerging Leaders Academy classes from the San Fernando Valley to Long Beach, La Puente to Culver City — the onetime losers were now emboldened winners.
“Emerging leaders, we don’t give them anything,” said sheriff’s Sgt. Clyde Terry, founder of the leadership academy. “We remind them of who they’ve always been — they’re extraordinary human beings.”
Around 2 PM Wednesday, just at the time when the Sheriff Department’s executive planning committee was scheduled to meet, A mystery banner was flown behind a small plane repeatedly over Los Angeles sheriffs department headquarters in Monterey Park.
The banner read:EPC: LEADERS DON’T FEED DEPS TO FEDERAL WOLVES
For those unfamiliar with the term, the Executive Planning Committee, or EPC, is exactly that, the inner circle of command staffers who meet on a regular basis with the LASD’s top brass—the sheriff and assistant sheriff—to talk about the running of the department.
Shortly after the banner appeared a crowd of department members and staffers spewed from the building to gaze skyward and snap cell phone photos.
Rumors circulated quickly about who could have hired the banner-flying airplane, which was in the air a bit over an hour.
Some said it was the LA County deputies’ union, ALADS, which was tired of paying the growing legal bills for deputies who were indicted. (It should likely be mentioned here that, the union has declined to pay any part at all of James Sexton’s legal representation. But that’s another subject altogether. In any case, the illogical rumor circulated.)
Others said it was an ominous warning sent by persons unknown urging department members to return to the code of silence and to cease and desist talking to the FBI “wolves” about any kind of wrongdoing committed by those in the LASD.
Still others said the plane was hired by a group of Tanaka supporters, hoping to protect their man from legal action against him by warning people not to testify or cooperate with the feds against him in any way. (Although how this airborne message would be an effective means of delivering such a warning is unclear.)
Our department sources, however, tell us that these rumors are all complete nonsense, that the banner’s appearance was paid for by an unnamed group of deputies who reportedly work within the LA County Jail system. Their point, as we understand it, was caused by anger that those indicted—and in the case of six of the defendants, convicted—-on the obstruction of justice matter were taking the hit for those higher who gave the crucial orders, all of whom still seem to manage to be in possession of a get out of jail card.
CRUCIAL BIPARTISAN JUVENILE AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM BILL
On Tuesday, the unlikely combination of Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and former mayor of NJ, Cory Booker (D-NJ), reached across the aisle to introduce an important, and far-reaching criminal justice reform bill. The REDEEM Act would give states incentives to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18-years-old, and ban the use of solitary confinement on kids except in extreme circumstances.
The bill would also expunge the records of kids under 15 who have committed non-violent crimes, and seal the records of kids between the ages of 15-17, as well as create a “path” for non-violent adult offenders to petition to have their records sealed.
REDEEM would also lift the bans on federal welfare for low-level drug offenders.
The REDEEM Act will give Americans convicted of non-violent crimes a second chance at the American dream. The legislation will help prevent youthful mistakes from turning into a lifetime of crime and help adults who commit non-violent crimes become more self-reliant and less likely to commit future crimes.
“The biggest impediment to civil rights and employment in our country is a criminal record. Our current system is broken and has trapped tens of thousands of young men and women in a cycle of poverty and incarceration. Many of these young people could escape this trap if criminal justice were reformed, if records were expunged after time served, and if non-violent crimes did not become a permanent blot preventing employment,” Sen. Paul said.
“I will work with anyone, from any party, to make a difference for the people of New Jersey and this bipartisan legislation does just that,” Sen. Booker said. “The REDEEM Act will ensure that our tax dollars are being used in smarter, more productive ways. It will also establish much-needed sensible reforms that keep kids out of the adult correctional system, protect their privacy so a youthful mistake can remain a youthful mistake, and help make it less likely that low-level adult offenders re-offend.”
LA FILM PROGRAM FOR UNDERPRIVILEGED TEENS AND YOUNG ADULTS
A film program through Southern California Crossroads empowers underprivileged teens and young adults in LA by teaching them the art of filmmaking.
Crossroads, a non-profit with other education reentry services, partners with the Tribeca Film Institute in NY and St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood to give teens, who often feel unheard, a voice, and a medium for tackling difficult issues.
As a child, Darlene Visoso tried to protect herself from the harsh words she endured from her father’s girlfriend by shutting off her emotions.
Until her early years of high school, she dealt with her pain, anger and insecurity by ignoring her feelings.
“I kind of went into a phase where I was like, what’s the point of feeling? What’s the point of laughing if you’re going to cry? What’s the point of crying if it’s non-ending emotion?” she said.
Though the girlfriend and her father have since split up, Darlene, now 17 and a recent graduate of South Gate High School, made a short film about her experiences titled “Learning to Feel.” She wrote it and played a part, starring as a girl who must learn to express her emotions after the death of her best friend.
The film was created through one of several programs run by Southern California Crossroads, a nonprofit group that aims to help underprivileged youths in violence-plagued communities. The film program, in partnership with the New York-based Tribeca Film Institute and St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood, allows students to confront social issues in their communities and their lives.
The topics addressed in the short films include such things as bullying, gun and gang violence, acceptance and self-identity. Saul Cervantes, a teacher with Crossroads, said filmmaking gives students a way to communicate.
“They feel like whatever they go through, they have to say it’s not really important,” he said. “This gives us an opportunity to show them a way to have a voice.”
Crossroads was formed in 2005 to help youths avoid violence, intervene in crisis situations and provide reentry services for those with criminal records. Although the heart of the program is education and employment, Crossroads offers mentoring, case management, tattoo removals and the film program.
It serves 18- to 24-year-olds who have dropped out of high school or have a criminal background…
ACLU AND OTHERS SUE FEDS FOR NOT PROVIDING ATTORNEYS TO KIDS IN DEPORTATION HEARINGS
On Wednesday, the SoCal ACLU (and other groups) filed a class action law suit against the federal government on behalf of thousands of immigrant kids being shuffled through immigration court proceedings without any legal representation. The SoCal ACLU is joined by American Immigration Council, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Public Counsel and K&L Gates LLP in the suit.
Each year, the government initiates immigration court proceedings against thousands of children. Some of these youth grew up in the United States and have lived in the country for years, and many have fled violence and persecution in their home countries. The Obama administration even recently called an influx of children coming across the Southern border a “humanitarian situation.” And yet, thousands of children required to appear in immigration court each year do so without an attorney. This case seeks to remedy this unacceptable practice.
“If we believe in due process for children in our country, then we cannot abandon them when they face deportation in our immigration courts,” said Ahilan Arulanantham, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project and the ACLU Foundation of Southern California. “The government pays for a trained prosecutor to advocate for the deportation of every child. It is patently unfair to force children to defend themselves alone.”
Kristen Jackson, senior staff attorney with Public Counsel, a not-for-profit law firm that works with immigrant children, added, “Each day, we are contacted by children in desperate need of lawyers to advocate for them in their deportation proceedings. Pro bono efforts have been valiant, but they will never fully meet the increasing and complex needs these children present. The time has come for our government to recognize our Constitution’s promise of fairness and its duty to give these children a real voice in court.”
The complaint charges the U.S. Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Department of Health and Human Services, Executive Office for Immigration Review and Office of Refugee Resettlement with violating the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause and the Immigration and Nationality Act’s provisions requiring a “full and fair hearing” before an immigration judge. It seeks to require the government to provide children with legal representation in their deportation hearings.
BUT WILL THE LAWSUIT CAUSE FURTHER DELAYS IN IMMIGRATION PROCEEDINGS THAT COULD ALSO BE HARMFUL TO SOME OF THESE KIDS?
EDITOR’S NOTE: The LA Times’ Hector Becerra has a story that questions whether the ACLU lawsuit will help or harm, pointing out that it will likely cause further delays in an already grossly overburdened system. Becerra’s story makes some interesting and valid points. Many kids who are here without documents are going to be repatriated no matter what, and the requirement for representation will likely only slow down an already glacial process.
But what of the kids who have legitimate reasons to ask for asylum or who have other extenuating circumstances that genuinely should be considered? Will their cases be adjudicated fairly by swamped judges if they don’t have the benefit an advocate? They are, after all, children. Will they get due process if they are their own sole representatives?
This is a complex matter, where there may be no perfect answer. But legal representation is an important tenet of our justice system. Let us not be too quick to dismiss the call for it for immigrant children simply because it may turn out to be inconvenient.
SENTENCING REFORM AND PUSHBACK FROM PROSECUTORS
NPR’s Morning Edition takes a look at the red states that are leading the pack on sentencing reform—Louisiana, in particular—and opposition from local prosecutors via plea bargain tactics. (As for California, we are sorely in need of sentencing reform.)
Some red states like Louisiana and Texas have emerged as leaders in a new movement: to divert offenders from prisons and into drug treatment, work release and other incarceration alternatives.
By most counts, Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the country. In recent years, sentencing reformers in the capital, Baton Rouge, have loosened some mandatory minimum sentences and have made parole slightly easier for offenders to get.
But as reformers in Louisiana push for change, they’re also running into stiffening resistance — especially from local prosecutors.
It’s all happening as the number of Americans behind bars has started to decline. There are multiple reasons for that, including crime rates that have been dropping since the 1990s, as well as the impact of the Supreme Court’s 2011 requirement that tough-on-crime California reduce its prison population.
And there’s another factor: a growing bipartisan consensus for sentencing reform. Local politicians are getting political cover for those efforts from conservative groups like Right on Crime.
“It is a growing consensus on the right that this is the direction we want to be going,” says Kevin Kane, of the libertarian-leaning Pelican Institute for Public Policy in Louisiana. “Most people will point to, ‘Well, it’s saving money, and that’s all conservatives care about.’ But I think it goes beyond that.”
Kane says libertarians are interested in limiting the government’s power to lock people away, while the religious right likes the idea of giving people a shot at redemption — especially when it comes to nonviolent drug offenders.
Still, not everyone is embracing these ideas. In some places, there’s been considerable pushback — especially when the idea of eliminating prison time for drug offenders arises.
In Lafayette, La., the sheriff’s department has reinvented its approach to drug offenders. Marie Collins, a counselor by trade, runs the department’s treatment programs. She estimates at least 80 percent of the people in the parish jail got there because of substance abuse.
“The concept of, ‘Let’s lock them up and throw away the key,’ does nothing for society and does nothing for us, because you haven’t taught them anything,” she says.
So there’s counseling offered inside this jail. The sheriff’s staff is also constantly scanning the jail’s population for nonviolent inmates it can release early into the appropriate programs on the outside.
One option is the Acadiana Recovery Center right next door, a treatment program run by Collins and the sheriff’s department — though the staffers play down their connection to law enforcement. In fact, you can seek treatment there even if you’ve never been arrested.
“If we can be proactive and provide the treatment before they get to jail, it’ll actually cost us less money,” Collins says.
Arguments like that are making headway at the state level. But reformers in Baton Rouge are also experiencing pushback. By most counts, the state has the highest incarceration rate in the country, and there’s a traditional preference for long sentences.
The vast majority of criminal cases in America are resolved through plea bargains. Defendants plead guilty out of fear of getting a worse sentence if they don’t. Plea bargains jumped above 90 percent in the 1980s and ’90s, in part because a wave of harsh new sentences for drug offenses strengthened prosecutors’ hands when bargaining with defendants.
“For a DA to have the ability to dangle over someone’s head 10, 20 years in jail, that provides them with tremendous leverage to pretty much get whatever they want,” says Louisiana State Sen. J.P. Morrell, a Democrat from New Orleans and former public defender.
CALIFORNIA PLANS TO SPEND $79 MILLION ON YOUTH, & ADVOCATES PRESS FOR $$ TO GO TO COUNTIES WITH CLEAR REHAB GOALS
Right now the California Board of State & Community Corrections (BSCC) is working on structuring an RFP so that it can give away $79 million to various counties in the state for the construction of new juvenile facilities.
The $79 mil is the second round of post-realignment funding for county youth lock-ups; $220 million has already been awarded to 14 California counties.
With this new round of money, research and advocacy organizations like the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ), the National Center for Law, and the Ella Baker Center see a rare opportunity to stimulate reform through the enticement of funding, so have been trying to educate and persuade the BSCC about what kind of youth facilities are likely to produce the best results.
According to Kate McCracken, CJCJ’s Director of Policy & Development, the the BSCC’s Executive Steering Committee, which is responsible for developing the crucial RFP, has “demonstrated openness” to crafting a competitive process would give the edge to county proposals that are designed with “clear rehabilitative goals.”
Ideally, McCracken writes, “the language of this RFP will guide the way counties develop their own proposals, and is thus essential to the development of long-term dispositional options and rehabilitative services available to young people in the community.”
Thus she hopes “the RFP will be rooted in what we know works for young people.”
“Research has proven time and time again that facilities are not effective when they have artificial environments, living quarters designed to confine large numbers of youth, and minimal programming space. If California is going to spend $79 million dollars — plus matching funds from the counties — on more juvenile facilities, let’s do it in a meaningful way.”
Some counties, like Santa Clara and Santa Cruz, are already committed to juvenile programs that emphasize rehabilitation and treatment over conventional youth corrections facilities.
Los Angeles County, which has the state’s (and the nation’s) largest juvenile justice system, was stuck for years in a punitive pattern that has resulted in years of federal monitoring along several class action lawsuits. Now LA County’s juvenile probation is moving toward some reform, with such programs as the in-the-works transformation of Camp David Kilpatrick. But, the tentative move in the direction of rehabilitation over containment is nothing close to system-wide.
If the purse-string-holding BCSC were to make clear that future $$ will be linked to reform, such fiscal incentives cannot help but have a salutary effect on counties like Los Angeles and others that may have made some improvements, but need to make many more.
“The future of California’s juvenile justice system is in the 58 counties,” writes McCracken, “as we observe pockets of innovation throughout the state that require support and incubation in other counties. There is significant evidence that a continuum of community-based services is the most effective approach to serving youth, as well as promising programs available to promote a new way of justice in California. This RFP is just one example of an opportunity for the state to rethink its approach to justice and challenge the status quo with innovative development.”
CHP HEAD MEETS WITH CIVIL RIGHTS LEADERS OVER FREEWAY BEATING VIDEO
Concerned about a building furor over the bystander-taken video of a California Highway Patrol officer beating a woman next to the 10 freeway, on Tuesday, CHP head Joe Farrow met Tuesday with civil rights leaders.
In an indication of the agency’s increasing concern over the videotaped altercation between an officer and an African-American woman on the 10 Freeway, California Highway Patrol Commissioner Joe Farrow met Tuesday with civil rights leaders in Los Angeles.
“I believe that right now, we are somewhat wounded because of what people have seen,” Farrow told reporters afterward outside the CHP’s West L.A. office. “I was deeply concerned when I saw the videotape. I was shocked.”
AN INNOCENT MAN TELLS OF HIS 25-YEARS BEHIND BARS, AND MORE
Even for readers who may feel practically jaded about stories of injustice in Texas – even those who followed this case closely in the press – could do themselves a favor by picking Michael Morton’s new memoir, Getting Life: An Innocent Man’s 25-Year Journey From Prison to Peace. It is extremely well-written, insightful, infuriating, and, in places, quite funny. The “peace” part of the title is no exaggeration, either. For everything he’s been through, Michael Morton seems to be a very well-adjusted person with a sense of Zenlike calm…
Morton’ wife, Chris, was bludgeoned in their bed while he was at work. When he returned home to find the family home surrounded by yellow police tape he became frantic. Morton was arrested soon after and railroaded by Williamson County D.A. Ken Anderson, who withheld crucial information and documents from the defense. Morton was eventually cleared by the Innocence Project using DNA evidence. After that, the DNA led officials to the actual killer.
A great deal has been written about the shortcomings of the American criminal justice system, but perhaps nothing more searing than Morton’s book, “Getting Life.” It is a devastating and infuriating book, more astonishing than any legal thriller by John Grisham, a window into a broken criminal justice system.
Indeed, Morton would still be in prison if the police work had been left to the authorities. The day after the killing, Chris’s brother, John, found a bloodied bandanna not far from the Morton home that investigators had missed, and he turned it over to the police.
Morton had advantages. He had no criminal record. He was white, from the middle class, in a respectable job. Miscarriages of justice disproportionately affect black and Hispanic men, but, even so, Morton found himself locked up in prison for decades.
Then DNA testing became available, and the Innocence Project — the lawyers’ organization that fights for people like Morton — called for testing in Morton’s case. Prosecutors resisted, but eventually DNA was found on the bandanna: Chris’s DNA mingled with that of a man named Mark Alan Norwood, who had a long criminal history….
Not with a click or the sound of tumblers finally hitting their marks or the sturdy clunk of wood and metal meshing as if they were made for each other.
This was different.
It began with the long, hard sound of steel sliding against steel.
Like a train, the heavy door built speed as it barreled along its worn track, the portal to the real world growing smaller as the barrier of thick and battered bars roared into place.
It locked with a cold, bone-shaking boom that rattled me— literally—me, the guard outside my door, and any other inmates unlucky enough to be nearby.
I was alone in my cell, alone in the world, as alone as I had ever been in my life.
And I would stay there—alone—listening to that door close, over and over and over again, for the next twenty-five years.
My wife, Chris, had been savagely beaten to death several months earlier. Before I had time to begin mourning, I was fighting for my own life against a legal system that seemed hell-bent on making me pay for the murder of the woman I would gladly have died for.
I was innocent.
Naïvely, I believed the error would soon be set right.
One in nine U.S. Children are diagnosed with ADHD—attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. There have been many theories as to the reason for this consistent rise in the prevalence of the disorder. Now researchers are beginning to wonder if perhaps inattentive, hyperactive, and impulsive behavior is often not ADHD at all, but a mirror of the effects of trauma and stress—a form of PTSD—that is misdiagnosed when pediatricians, psychiatrists, and psychologists are simply going for the familiar label rather than seeing the true underlying cause.
Rebecca Ruiz delves into the issue in a story that has been co-published by The Atlantic and Aces Too High. It’s a must read.
Here’s a clip:
Dr. Nicole Brown’s quest to understand her misbehaving pediatric patients began with a hunch.
Brown was completing her residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, when she realized that many of her low-income patients had been diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
These children lived in households and neighborhoods where violence and relentless stress prevailed. Their parents found them hard to manage and teachers described them as disruptive or inattentive. Brown knew these behaviors as classic symptoms of ADHD, a brain disorder characterized by impulsivity, hyperactivity, and an inability to focus.
When Brown looked closely, though, she saw something else: trauma. Hyper-vigilance and dissociation, for example, could be mistaken for inattention. Impulsivity might be brought on by a stress response in overdrive.
“Despite our best efforts in referring them to behavioral therapy and starting them on stimulants, it was hard to get the symptoms under control,” she said of treating her patients according to guidelines for ADHD. “I began hypothesizing that perhaps a lot of what we were seeing was more externalizing behavior as a result of family dysfunction or other traumatic experience.”
Dr. Kate Szymanski came to the same conclusion a few years ago. An associate professor at Adelphi University’s Derner Institute and an expert in trauma, Szymanski analyzed data from a children’s psychiatric hospital in New York. A majority of the 63 patients in her sample had been physically abused and lived in foster homes. On average, they reported three traumas in their short lives. Yet, only eight percent of the children had received a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder while a third had ADHD.
“I was struck by the confusion or over-eagerness–or both–to take one diagnosis over another,” Szymanski says. “To get a picture of trauma from a child is much harder than looking at behavior like impulsivity, hyperactivity. And if they cluster in a certain way, then it’s easy to go to a conclusion that it’s ADHD.”
IT’S OFFICIAL NOW: THE FEDS WILL RETRY SEXTON
In a hearing held at 3 pm Monday in front of Judge Percy Anderson, Prosecutor Brandon Fox announced that, yes, the government had decided to go another round in trying Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton for obstruction of justice for his part in allegedly hiding inmate and federal informant Anthony Brown from any and all federal officials.
The trial is set to begin on September 9, 2014.
Fox also notified the judge of his intent to file a motion limiting testimony on Sexton’s contacts and cooperation with the FBI, which the prosecution reportedly believes was much of why six members of the jury in Sexton’s last trial voted to acquit him.
The defense is likely to argue that, since Sexton’s cooperation with the FBI has much to do with the mindset and context in which the deputy made incriminating statements to the grand jury, which are the heart of the prosecution’s case, the facts of Sexton’s extensive cooperation cannot be excluded.
We will know what the judge rules later this summer.
Three more federal trials of LASD department members, all of them indicted for brutality and corruption in the LA County Jails, are scheduled for the coming year, according to the US Attorney’s Office.
In a case that will come to trial November 4, 2014, Deputies Joey Aguiar and Mariano Ramirez are accused of punching, kicking and pepper spraying an inmate who was handcuffed and shackled with a waist chain, then lying about their actions in a report that, in turn, caused the inmate to be falsely criminal charged.
In a case that will come to trial January 13, 2015, deputies Bryan Brunsting and Jason Branum are charged in a six-count indictment with civil rights violations, assault and making false statements in reports. The indictment also alleges (among other things) that Brunsting, a training officer, frequently used deputies whom he was training to file reports that covered up abuse. The victims were inmates at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility.
A third jail brutality trial is scheduled for March 3. This indictment charges a sergeant and four deputies with civil rights violations, alleging that Sergeant Eric Gonzalez, and deputies Sussie Ayala, Fernando Luviano, Pantamitr Zunggeemoge, and Noel Womack, arrested or detained five victims—-including the Austrian consul general—–when they arrived to visit inmates at the Men’s Central Jail in 2010 and 2011. In one of the four incidents, the victim suffered a broken arm and a dislocated shoulder that has left him permanently disabled. In another incident, the Austrian consul general and her husband were handcuffed and detained.
The six department members convicted last week will be sentenced on September 8, 2014.
Deputy Gilbert Michel, of the phone smuggling case, will be sentenced on September 15, 2014.
AFTER BUMPY PERIOD WITH CIVILIAN BOSSES, LAPD CHIEF CHARLIE BECK IS BACK ON SOLID GROUND
It was assumed that popular LA Chief of Police Charlie Beck would easily get a second term at the job. Then this spring, the LA Police Commissioners started to express concerns about a series of controversies. Between then and now, Beck has done much to mend and strengthen relationships, and thus he seems once again back on solid footing.
He wants a second term because he has a lot more to do, he says. Now it reportedly looks as though he’s going to get one—which is as it should be. (Firm constructive criticism is one thing, however, replacing Charlie Beck at this juncture would have been, in our opinion, unnecessary and destructive.)
Charlie Beck received a blunt message from one of his civilian bosses as he prepared to request a second term as chief of the Los Angeles Police Department: He was no longer a shoo-in for the job.
Police Commissioner Paula Madison demanded a meeting with Beck in April and told him she was concerned about a recent string of controversies and his apparent lack of transparency with the five-member oversight panel he reports to.
“When I stepped into this role, I didn’t expect that we would be looking for a new police chief, but now we may need to consider it,” Madison recalled telling Beck.
Other commissioners shared her concerns. Some were displeased enough with Beck that they alerted Mayor Eric Garcetti, who appoints the commissioners and wields considerable influence on their decision. The mayor, in turn, summoned the chief.
Before the recent tension with his bosses, Beck had cruised relatively unscathed through his first term in a period of relative calm for the scandal-prone LAPD. Beck established himself as a capable leader and oversaw continued declines in crime, according to department statistics.
He guided the department through budget cuts that included the near elimination of cash to pay officers for overtime. As many of the department’s roughly 10,000 officers accumulated hundreds of hours of unpaid overtime, Beck oversaw a plan that forced large numbers of them to take time off each month in lieu of being paid cash. The strategy strained resources as Beck and his commanders scrambled to make do with a depleted force.
Beck, when he thought it was necessary, did not shy from confrontations with his officers and the union that represents them.
Decisions Beck made on discipline set off his recent clash with the commission. In February, he opted not to punish a group of officers involved in a flawed shooting, which drew a public challenge from Soboroff. A few weeks later, members of the oversight board, along with many officers, criticized the chief for not firing Shaun Hillmann, a well-connected cop who was caught making racist comments.
Those controversies were followed the next month by revelations that officers in South L.A. had been tampering with recording equipment in patrol cars to avoid being monitored. Commissioners demanded to know why Beck had left them in the dark about the matter and questioned whether the chief was committed to working with his civilian bosses….
NEW YORK GOVERNOR DETERMINED TO RAISE THE AGE OF CRIMINAL RESPONSIBILITY
Supporters of raising the age of criminal responsibility in New York have science and statistics on their side when it comes to the reasons to avoid trying most youth as adults, but will they manage to get legislation passed to actually raise the age?
In April, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the members of the Commission on Youth, Public Safety and Justice, created in part to address raising the age of criminal responsibility. Today, New York and North Carolina are the only two states where young people 16 and older are automatically treated as adults.
“Our juvenile justice laws are outdated,” Cuomo said in his State of the State address this year. “It’s not right, it’s not fair — we must raise the age.”
The commission is tasked with serving up concrete recommendations about raising the age and juvenile justice reform by December. Alphonso David, the governor’s deputy secretary of civil rights, said the commission has to strike a balance.
“When we think about criminal justice reform we are addressing two platforms: reducing recidivism and ensuring public safety,” David said. “We are very focused on advancing both objectives, so recommendations would likely factor in both goals.”
Sexton, if you’ll remember, was tried in May of this year on the same allegations of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice for which the six were just convicted. But in the case of the 28-year-old deputy, the jury hopelessly deadlocked, 6-6, producing a mistrial.
In many ways Sexton’s case is similar to that of Mickey Manzo and Gerard Smith, the two deputies who were just convicted (along with two sergeants and two lieutenants).
Like Manzo and Smith, Sexton works for Operation Safe Jails (OSJ), the elite unit tasked with, among other things, developing informants among the various prison gang populations inside the county’s jail system.
And, like Manzo and Smith, Sexton was an active part of the team that hid federal informant and inmate, Anthony Brown, from his FBI handlers, albiet, at a far more junior level.
AND YET THERE ARE DIFFERENCES
Despite the similarities, Sexton’s case also is significantly different from the case arrayed against Manzo and Smith in several ways. For instance, unlike the recently convicted deputies, Sexton originated no relevant emails, he never interrogated federal informant Anthony Brown, he was not present at high-level meetings, like the meeting on August 20, 2011, called by Sheriff Lee Baca, with former undersheriff Paul Tanaka and other command staff in attendance, where Smith and Manzo were also present, and crucial discussions occurred. Unlike Smith or Manzo, his name is never listed in pertinent emails as being someone in a position of authority.
Perhaps most importantly, unlike Smith and Manzo, Sexton cooperated with the FBI for more than a year, reportedly submitting willingly to 37 different interviews with the feds, many of the interviews with FBI special agent Leah Marx.
The deputy talked with Marx and company so much, in fact, that, according to agent Marx’s testimony, in order to make communication with the feds easier and safer for Sexton, she and her team gave him a cell phone that he could use solely for his calls to them. (The FBI reportedly grew concerned after it learned of what it believed were genuine threats against Sexton and his OSJ partner, Mike Rathbun, by department members, due to the two deputies’ whistleblower actions on another unrelated LASD case.)
In addition to providing information and documents to the feds, Sexton also testified twice in front of a grand jury, and did so without any apparent effort at self-protection.
In short, Sexton fully admitted his part in the operation that came to be known as Operation Pandora’s Box—obligingly describing the hiding of Brown in colorful detail. Sexton also characterized the hiding of Brown as being part of an “adversarial” attitude in which “the adversary was the U.S. government”—aka the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office.
“It was ‘bring out the smoke and mirrors’” he said.
The center of the prosecution’s case at the last trial was this grand jury testimony along with similar statements Sexton made to special agent Marx.
After the last trial resulted in a hung jury, juror Marvin Padilla said that it was Sexton’s grand jury testimony that got him and some of his fellow jurors to vote for acquittal.
“I just did not find it credible,” said Padilla. “I think these are conclusions he reached in hindsight a year later,” not when the actions were actually occurring. “Nearly all of Sexton’s narrative at the grand jury seemed like 20-20 hindsight.”
CRIMINAL CONDUCT & A TOXIC CULTURE
After the verdict came in last Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte held a short press conference on the court’s steps in which he talked about a “criminal conduct and a toxic culture” at the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.
“While an overwhelming majority of law enforcement officials serve with honor and dignity,” said Birotte, these defendants tarnished the badge by acting as if they were above the law.”
Monday at around 3 pm, James Sexton and his attorneys will meet with government’s prosecution team before Judge Percy Anderson to discuss whether or not the government will indeed refile charges on the deputy in the hope of convincing a jury that, Sexton, like the other six, acted as if he was “above the law.”
If so, a new trial could take place as quickly as this September.
“It is not surprising that the government would elect to retry Deputy Sexton given the decisive conviction of the other six defendants on all counts,” said Krinsky.
“The government may well believe that equities support a retrial and that a new jury should have the opportunity to determine whether Mr. Sexton should also be held accountable for his alleged participation in this conspiracy.”
Krinsky noted, however, that any retrial of Sexton will be “challenging” in the light of what she described as the deputy’s “limited role in the conspiracy and his immediate and prolonged cooperation with the government.” It was these factors, she said, “that undoubtedly resulted in jury nullification that accounted for the first jury’s inability to reach a verdict.”
The next time around, Krinsky said, “we can expect the government to present more robust evidence at any retrial (just as they did at the trial of the other six defendants) regarding the backdrop of excessive force in the jails and the systemic failures at LASD” that “…didn’t simply justify, but in fact compelled, the FBI to engage in an undercover operation that involved the unorthodox smuggling of a cellphone to an inmate.”
Of course, the mention of “systemic failures” and “a toxic culture” at the LASD cannot help but raise the question that must loom as a backdrop to any discussion of refiling on Sexton, namely whether or not the government intends to move up (instead of merely down) the ladder of command to file on those who actually gave the orders, and set the cultural tone that has, thus far, resulted in seven federal indictments for obstruction of justice, and six felony convictions.