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November 13th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

Friday night we grieved with our brother and sisters in Paris. Today we stand beside them.

With the same sad but determined hearts, we stand beside our brothers and sisters in Beirut.

Posted in Life in general | 5 Comments »

College Track Comes to Watts, “Ghost Suspensions,” and Use-of-Force

November 13th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


On Thursday, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti, Councilmember Joe Busciano, education groups, students, and supporters, gathered at Jordan High School to celebrate the launch of an important new program in Watts called “College Track.”

Garcetti and Busciano were joined by Green Dot, the Partnership for LA Schools, Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles, the Emerson Collective, and the Wasserman Foundation, with whom College Track has partnered to bring crucial resources and services to Watts students.

College Track, which has already been successfully implemented in other areas, is an innovative program to help kids in underserved communities attend and graduate college. The 10-year program supports kids from 9th grade through completion of their college degree.

The program provides students with academic support, leadership training, scholarships, help with housing, and college and financial advice.

Through College Track, 93% of the 2,400 participating students were accepted into a four-year college, and those kids had a graduation rate 2.5 times that of low income students nationally.

(Here’s a sweet video of a young College Track participant named Alex, who wants to major in computer science at Boston College, speaking at the event.)


In 2013, Los Angeles banned suspensions for “willful defiance,” a broad term that could be slapped onto anything from talking back in class, to not having the right materials for an assignment, to a dress code violation. Suspension rates have plummeted in Los Angeles and across California as school districts have been moving away from harsh school discipline practices toward more healing restorative justice practices. The Los Angeles Unified School District also announced last year that it would stop issuing citations to students for youthful offenses like truancy, possession of alcohol or marijuana, and fighting, in an effort to stop the flow of students into the juvenile justice system. But the transition to smarter school discipline has not been an easy one.

Last week, a story from the LA Times’ Teresa Watanabe and Howard Blume revealed that some LAUSD teachers said that lack of financial resources had resulted in half-implemented restorative justice policies, leaving teachers, no longer able to suspend students for “willful defiance,” without proper tools to handle unruly classrooms.

And those massively reduced suspension rates may not be as impressive as they seem, thanks to informal “ghost suspensions.” Some advocates say schools are lowering suspension rates by sending kids home with their parents or putting them in a separate classroom all day without counting them as out-of-school suspensions.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Nadra Nittle has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

As the push for restorative justice grows nationwide, LAUSD is not only citing fewer students for minor infractions but suspending fewer also. In May 2013, the school board passed the School Climate Bill of Rights to ban suspensions for willful defiance. This catchall category included infractions like talking back or cursing and faced criticism from activists who said they led to racial disparities in school discipline.

After eliminating willful defiance suspensions, the suspension rate in LAUSD dropped to 1.3 percent, half of L.A. County’s rate of 2.8 percent and more than three times lower than the state rate of 4.4 percent.

But community organizers such as McGowan question whether the district’s impressive suspension rate tells the whole story about discipline in LAUSD. His organization represents students in South Los Angeles schools, where they’re subject to informal suspensions, he said.

“They find a room to send them,” he said of local schools. “They’re not going to call it in-school suspensions, but one high school has a Room 100 where they send kids.”

McGowan also asserted that schools sometimes remove students “having a bad day” from class by asking parents to pick them up.

“They’re sending kids out of the classroom for extended periods of time,” he said. “They’re just not counting it as out-of-school suspensions.”

Earl Perkins, LAUSD’s assistant superintendent of school operations, denied McGowan’s claims.

“Informal suspensions are not in our makeup,” he said. “There might have been one case. We have referral rooms for students, but it’s not suspension. They may go out of class, but it’s not suspension. We don’t have ghost suspensions. It’s not supposed to be happening. If it does, it’s dealt with very severely.”

But like McGowan, Kim McGill, a Youth Justice Coalition organizer, expressed concerns about the tactics LAUSD uses to lower its rate of suspensions and expulsions. She said that some schools pressure families to transfer their children to continuation or alternative schools to keep discipline numbers down.

“Our main concern is that schools are pushing students out of the comprehensive school district,” she said. “Our concern is that schools can reformat things so it looks like expulsion [but] has a different name.”


In an interview with NPR’s Kelly McEvers, Matt Johnson, president of the Los Angeles Police Commission, said his goal is to reduce officer use-of-force numbers, through de-escalation training and an examination of the less-than-lethal weapons officers use.

Johnson is the only black member of the civilian commission tasked with overseeing the LAPD. Johnson says his personal experiences with racism from law enforcement officers in New Jersey (his home state) give him a unique perspective on the “crisis of confidence” between communities of color and law enforcement.

Earlier this week, WLA pointed to KPCC’s gathering of five years worth of data on police involved-shootings. The LA-based NPR station found that LA officers (LASD, LAPD, and others) shot 375 people, of whom, about one in four was unarmed.

Here’s a clip from the interview:

JOHNSON: We’ll look at tactics in training. We’ll look at the tools that they have, whether it’s Tasers or beanbag shotguns, and we will also look at things like de-escalation techniques which are really – you’re talking about communication skills, verbal skills to bring a situation down. If it’s at a six, let’s try and bring it down to a two rather than having it get to a ten.


MCEVERS: You’ve been criticized by protesters from the Black Lives Matter movement because you now work inside the system. Is that going to make it hard for you to work with certain people in the community?

JOHNSON: Well, I think, first of all, you have to recognize that that is one group out of many, many, many groups, and it’s not really about me as an individual although they may say otherwise. Look; I understand the pain and anger that comes out of where they’re coming from. Their anger is at the institution, and as president of the Police Commission, I am absolutely the representative, the primary representative of the commission. And one – you know, along with the chief of police, we are primary representatives of the police department.

So my focus is really on two things. We have to really look very hard at every one of these use-of-force instances and judge them fairly. And secondly and probably more importantly, we need to be making sure that we’re doing everything we can to decrease the numbers of use-of-force.


On Tuesday, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck announced the creation of a new award, called the “Preservation of Life Medal,” to recognize officers who “display commendable restraint” rather than use deadly force. The medal, Chief Beck said, would be on the same level as the Medal of Valor.

The police chief pointed to two particular recent instances in which officers safely took suspects into custody. In one of the incidents, two officers wrestled a man with a sawed-off rifle into submission. “It could have easily been an incident where deadly force was deployed, but it was not,” Beck said.

“I know many times at the commission, you hear about the times when officers are forced into using deadly force,” Beck said to the commission. “But I also want to make sure we cover and recognize the many times law enforcement officers are able to save lives by their restraint.”

The LA Times editorial board applauds the decision as part of a larger effort on the part of Chief Beck to address use-of-force issues. Here’s a clip:

Of course, an award alone won’t immediately change public opinion or police behavior. But it’s a step in the right direction. What’s more, the announcement at Tuesday’s Police Commission meeting was just one manifestation of the attention Beck and other L.A. officials have been paying recently to the public’s concerns about deadly encounters between officers and suspects.

At the meeting, Beck described the details of a fatal officer-involved shooting on Monday in Lake Balboa, and he reported statistics on the use of force and how many of the suspects involved were African American. This is new. In recent years, Beck typically hasn’t talked about shootings by officers during his weekly report to the commission (because such shootings had been way down, at least until this year).

These actions and others, such as the expansion of training for police officers in how to de-escalate tense situations, suggest that Beck and Mayor Eric Garcetti are taking seriously complaints from the public about unnecessary use of force. After a slow start, Garcetti has called on Beck and Matt Johnson, a recent appointee to the commission, to respond. To their credit, they have.

But not everyone is pleased with the new award. Beck’s announcement of the new award raised the hackles of leaders from the police union, who made the point that officers hold their fire whenever possible, but shouldn’t hold their fire to the point of endangering their lives.

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has more on the police union’s statement.

Posted in Education, LAPD, Willful defiance | No Comments »

Wounds of War: Veterans on Death Row….OC Will Have WatchDog for Its Embattled DA …Thursday Summit on Race & Justice In U.S.

November 12th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


According to a new report by the Death Penalty Information Center, approximately ten percent of those on death row in America right now are military veterans. In terms of numbers that means approximately 300 inmate veterans are awaiting execution.

Legal rulings have tended to dismiss the connection between battle trauma and violence that occurs when the traumatized warrior returns home, notes the report, never mind an 89 percent rise in homicides by veterans following the invasion of Afghanistan, compared with a six-year period before 9/11.

According to the report, over 800,000 Vietnam veterans suffered from PTSD. At least 175,000 veterans of Operation Desert Storm were affected by ‘Gulf War Illness,’ which has been linked to brain cancer and other mental deficits. Over 300,000 veterans from the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts have PTSD. “In one study, only about half had received treatment in the prior year.”

The report’s author, Richard C. Dieter, writes that “when many of these veterans faced death penalty trials, their service and related illnesses were barely touched on as their lives were being weighed by judges and juries.”

In an Veteran’s Day Op Ed written for USA Today, three retired U.S. military generals also express concern about the high number of military veterans on death row, many of whom, they say, have diagnoses that should have been considered at sentencing time. The generals note that “the first person executed in the United States this year, Andrew Brannan, was a Vietnam veteran who had been granted 100% disability because of his Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other problems stemming from his military service.”

So is this really what we want to be doing? The three former generals think not, and they are an impressive group. Retired Brig. Gen. James P. Cullen, is also a former judge for the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals. Retired Brig. Gen. David R. Irvine,is a former Deputy Commander of the 96th U.S. Army Reserve Command, and retired Brig. Gen. Stephen N. Xenakis, is a physician and an adjunct clinical professor at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences.

They point to other death row vets, such as James Davis, also a Vietnam veteran with PTSD.

“[Davis} belatedly received his Purple Heart medal on death row in North Carolina, thanks to the work of a fellow veteran and therapist and a pastor, Jim Johnson, who visited Davis. When Johnson pinned the medal on him, Davis saluted proudly, before retreating back into the darkness of his mental problems. He could still be executed today for the murders he committed in 1995, and he has all but given up his appeals.”

And then there is John Thuesen, a veteran of the Iraq conflict, who is on death row in Texas. According to the generals, Thuesen’s PTSD was not properly diagnosed or treated. And his lawyers did little “to explain his condition to the jury that convicted him of murdering his ex-girlfriend.”

Surely men who murder their girlfriends must be held appropriately to answer, no matter how disturbed they are, or why. And, it needs to be said that, most military vets who come home with emotional wounds do not hurt anybody.

But a few do.

Thus, the question is, should the mental and emotional damage they sustained in the service of their country be taken into consideration if they have done something so horrific that capital punishment is on the table?

Many think the answer is: Yes. But not everyone. Yet, the three generals—and the new report—-say we need to revisit this issue:

“In a criminal sentencing hearing, PTSD should be a strong mitigating factor,” write the generals. “It’s not an excuse or a demand for acquittal. However, the very symptoms that define PTSD can be frightening to a jury if not carefully explained by a mental health expert familiar with the illness. Defense attorneys are often not adequately prepared to investigate and present this kind of evidence; prosecutors or judges might dismiss it because others with similar combat experiences did not murder anyone.”

And “perhaps,” the generals conclude, “some of the blame should be more broadly shared, because we sometimes choose to look away when a veteran’s scars are not the kind that we know how to cope with.”

Report author Dieter agrees. “We want smiling veterans returning home,” Dieter says in an interview with the Christian Science Monitor. “But the side of somebody who goes off to the dark side and commits murder, we don’t … want to explore those wounds.”

No one is suggesting we should walk away from punishment, Dieter says. “…This is all about how extreme the punishment should be, and the understanding that people who served and who have been wounded mentally deserve help.”


In a 3-2 vote on Tuesday, the Orange County Board of Supervisors voted to extend the oversight that is presently newly focused on the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, to also include oversight of the OC District Attorney’s office—along with the Public Defender’s offices, probation and social services.

But, to be clear: the main focus of this expansion of watch-dogging activity is aimed at the embattled DA’s office, and its snitch scandal.

Not surprisingly, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas is opposed to the new oversight.

In fact, Rackauckas appears to be fighting the watch-dogging in what ever way he is able. Most recently, the DA shot off a 14-page letter to the OC Supes detailing why he won’t agree to an attorney-client relationship in which an oversight office would have access to confidential files.

Despite the widening scandal on the use of jailhouse informants, Rackaukas and his office have planted their collective feet and insisted they have not done anything wrong, even after Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas M. Goethals recused the entire DA’s office in March from the case of the Seal Beach killer, People v. Scott Dekraai, because of the agency’s unconstitutional use of snitches to attempt to question defendants.

The body that will be doing the oversight is the Orange County Office of Independent Review, which is part of the larger group, the Office of Independent Review Group (OIR), which is located in Los Angeles, and which—up until 2014—oversaw the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. In short, they are veterans of such wars for access to information, and appear to have benefited from their battle scars.

KPCC’s Erica Aguilar has more on the matter of Tuesday’s vote. Here’s a clip from her story:

“We don’t know the extent of the scandal in the District Attorney’s office. We don’t know how many convictions are tainted because of it ” said, Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of UC-Irvine’s Law School.

Unlike the county public defender, which is appointed — the District Attorney and Sheriff are elected officials. Rackauckas and Sheriff Sandra Hutchens’ terms end in 2018.

Chemerinsky continues to call for the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate potential wrongdoing in the OC District Attorney’s in regards to jailhouse informants. The U.S. Attorney’s Office said it continues to keep an eye on law enforcement in the county. Chemerinsky’s also called on the Attorney General Kamala Harris to investigate Orange County’s jailhouse informant scandal but that hasn’t happened.

He said an inspector general model–like that adopted for the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department– would be one way to provide prosecutorial oversight of the district attorney in Orange County. The U.S. Attorney’s Office also has an inspector general within the department.

Ideally, an oversight body would have the ability to investigate and subpoena, said Chemerinsky.

“Often the way in which wrongdoing is learned is through whistleblowers,” he said. “And you need somebody for the whistleblower to go to and you need protection for the whistleblower.”

Instead, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas continues to send letters to the OC Board of Supervisors wailing about the idea of oversight, calling it redundant and overreaching.

Fortunately, a majority of three of the OC Supes were wise enough not to listen.

For more on the history of the OC Snitch Scandal read the remarkable coverage by Scott Moxley of the OC Weekly, which is compiled here.


Following Ta-Nehisi Coates’ October 2015 cover story, “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration,” which explores “the devastating impact decades of mass incarceration has had on African-American families,” Atlantic Magazine holds an all day summit in Washington D.C., on the same topic, that live screens here.

The summit’s panelists include advocates, police, district attorneys, academics, writers, representatives from the White House, and more.

Take a look.

The summit is live streaming right now, but we’ll link to post-summit coverage when it’s over, so check back.

Posted in Veterans | 2 Comments »

To Our Nation’s Veterans….We Are Deeply Grateful for Your Service.

November 11th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

Today’s Veteran’s Day offerings both feature the remarkable Jason Isbell, singing Tour of Duty and Dress Blues. In the first video, he is accompanied by his wife, singer-songwriter/violinist Amanda Shires, in the second, by Ms. Shires and by Isbell’s fine band, The 400 Unit.

If you’ve never heard Isbell sing before, play Dress Blue’s first. (Then play everything else of his you can find.)

Posted in Veterans | No Comments »

A Look at Police Shootings in LA……Supes Agree to Pay $8.85 Million for LASD Killing….Ix-Nay on Mass Incarceration for Kids…Another Alarming Wrinkle in Foster Care’s Group Home Problem

November 11th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

For some reason there is no official tally of police shootings in America, although it seems like an accurate and detailed tally would benefit everyone. For one thing, facts would replace the conjectures and generalizations that both activists and law enforcement spokespeople are too often prone to lobbing, grenade-like, into the public discourse. Several news organizations have attempted to take up the tasking of counting, most notably the Washington Post and the Guardian.

Even more recently, one of LA’s main NPR stations, KPPC, has stepped in with its own count. But in KPCC’s case, they are appropriately counting the police shootings in LA County.

The KPPC count is based on information from the LA District Attorney’s office, along with medical examiner data, all gathered between 2010 and 2014. The count has also resulted in a a series of excellent stories by Frank SToltz, Annie Gilbertson, Martin Kaste, Rina Palta, Chris Keller and Aaron Mendelson—and other KPPC staffers—that look a multiple sides of the topic.

For instance, Frank Stoltze reports on Eric Avendano and Miguel Ruano, two LAPD officers who received the department’s medal of valor last month.

Stolze wrote:

In the summer of 2011, Ruano shot a man who had stabbed his partner inside a church in Boyle Heights — and was charging at Ruano.

Avendano’s decision to fire was not to save his own life, but that of an innocent woman.

“Right here in this room are the human stories of bravery,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said. “It is an honor to come here.”

As for the stats: KPPC found that during those five years they counted, the Los Angeles Police Department, LA County Sheriff’s Department, and various other agencies that police in the LA County, shot 375 people, of whom, about one in four was unarmed. 148 people were shot for moving their hands out of sight or reaching for their waistbands; of those, 47 turned out to be unarmed.

In New York City, the ratio is slightly better, with one-in-five out of those shot found to be unarmed.

Among LA law enforcement, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s department has the least comforting record, with one-in-three shootings involving an unarmed person.

In a related story, Annie Gilbertson, Frank Stoltze and Chris Keller look at those shootings of unarmed LA residents. .

Reporters asked LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell about LASD’s one-in-three ratio KPCC found, and McDonnell defended his troops:

Sheriff Jim McDonnell said that would be “troubling to anybody,” but maintains the shootings were unavoidable.

“You have to do what you have to do to be able to protect your own life and the lives of others,” McDonnell said.

There’s lots more in the way of breakdown of the numbers here, where you can view the data through various filters. For instance, you can find how many people during each year were shot while police were defending some other civilian or civilians, or when the shooting occurred during or after a chase or pursuit, and how many of the shootings were fatal, and so on.

No matter where you sit on the issue, there’s a lot in the series to look at and listen to. We at WLA recommend diving in.


On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted to pay $8.85 million to the family of Alfredo Montalvo, a fork-lift operator and married father of two, who was fatally shot in 2009 by nine Los Angeles Sheriff’s deputies in Lynwood, CA, after a short pursuit.

The shooting took place after deputies in an an unmarked sheriff’s car started tailing Montalvo deciding he was drunk after he rolled over a curb while leaving a Circle K. parking lot. Trying frantically to escape the unmarked car following him, Montalvo eventually crashed into two cars. As more than a dozen deputies reportedly arrived for back-up, and Montalvo was told to exit his car.

Surrounded by multiple law enforcement vehicles by that time, Montalvo—who was, by the way, not drunk at all (his tox screen did not show alchohol)—reportedly tried to reverse his hemmed in car so he could open his car door and exit the vehicle as the deputies had demanded, and in so doing struck one of the sheriff’s vehicles.

Saying later that they feared for their lives, the group of deputies opened fire, and shot at Montalvo 61 times. The 29-year old Montalvo later died at the hospital.

The shooting was found to be in policy.

Nevertheless, in 2012, a Compton jury awarded Montalvo’s wife, Annette Montalvo, and their two children $8.76 million in a wrongful-death civil case.

Naturally, the county appealed, and, as the case made its way through the appeals process, the award gathered interest, plus attorneys’ fees. Thus now, in late 2015, if the county lost the appeal, it would have owed Montalvo’s family $11 million. So the Supes unanimously and wisely voted to settle for $8.85 million.

The LA Times’ Jack Dolan has more on the story.


Long admired juvenile justice expert, Vincent Schiraldi, has run two problem-fraught juvenile incarceration facilities—one in Washington, D.C., the other in New York City. Plus he has visited many more of the places in the course of his work in justice research and reform.

In an Op Ed for the New York Times Schiraldi—who is now a senior research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Program in Criminal Justice—says that horrific institutional conditions are “common, not exceptional,” in such facilities. He points out that, since 1970, “systemic violence, abuse and excessive use of isolation and restraint”s have been documented in juvenile institutions in 39 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Here’s a clip that gives a glimpse into what Schiraldi found in the D.C. kids’ lock-up that he took over in 2005:

Beatings of children in custody were commonplace, inmates stuffed clothing around the toilets to keep out rats and cockroaches, young people were locked up for so long that they often defecated or urinated in their cells. Youths who came in clean tested positive for marijuana after 30 days of confinement, suggesting that it was easier to score drugs in my facility than on the streets of the District of Columbia.

My staff and I quickly uncovered more abuses. Staff members were sexually harassing the kids and one another. One of my corrections officers married a youth shortly after the boy was released from custody. A teacher who had been confined in the facility when she was a teenager confided to us that she had been sexually assaulted by a staff member who was still in our employ years later. The female staff members widely complained that, if they didn’t perform sexually for their supervisors, they were threatened with finding themselves alone and unaided with the facility’s inmates in dangerous situations.

These abuses are not meted out equally in the United States, with African-Americans and Latinos incarcerated at far higher rates than whites. In my five years running the Washington system, I never saw one white youth (other than volunteers) in my correctional facility.

Cleaning this up was no mean feat. When a boy complained that he had been savagely and publicly beaten by a staff member (the medical staff said his bruising was consistent with his account), only a single corrections officer came forward as a witness. Because of the strong taboo against “snitching” inside correctional facilities, the witness was so harassed by fellow corrections officers that his testimony during an arbitration hearing was shaky and deemed not credible.

From what he saw in his ten years on the inside, Schiraldi says, he thinks all kids’ incarceration facilities should be shut down in favor of community-based programs, the sooner, the better. “Conditions [inside these facilities] poison staff members and kids alike and harm, rather than improve, public safety.”

Editor’s Note: Schiraldi was one of the juvenile justice reform experts who spoke eloquently at the Smart on Safety summit that WitnessLA attended last week.


Only those involved with the foster care system seem to be aware of California’s Assembly Bill (AB) 403, that was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown early this fall. The new law, that has been widely praised by child advocates, was passed in response to an increasing body of research, not to mention plain old common sense, that has found that long-term stays in group homes for foster kids is, almost without exception, really harmful to a kid’s emotional health, well-being and to his or her general statistical outcomes when the kid moves into adulthood.

But finding healthier substitutes for the hard-to-place kids who usually wind-up in California’s group homes is a challenging matter, as even the most ardent child-advocates will tell you.

The matter becomes even more complicated with the highest-needs kids in foster care who, as Jeremy Loudenback reports for the Chronicle of Social Change, “continue to face waiting lists and uncertain futures under so-called congregate-care reform.”

Here’s a clip from Loudenback’s story:

Located in Torrance, a mid-size town south of Los Angeles, Star View Adolescent Center is one of only two secure residential facilities in California, also known as community treatment facilities (CTFs). Originally designed as an alternative to out-of-state placements and the state’s psychiatric hospitals, CTFs provide mental health treatment to children ages 12 to 18 who are deemed seriously emotionally disturbed.

Nearly all of these children are involved with the child-welfare and juvenile-justice systems in California and have a history of severe abuse and trauma. The most common diagnoses include bipolar disorders, serious depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, along with substance abuse issues.

Youth in residential care at Star View also attend South Bay High School on campus, a learning institution that’s only open to the 40 youth in the program as well as the 16 youth who reside at the psychiatric health facility that’s part of the campus. The population is predominately female and is drawn from across the state, though most come from Los Angeles County through contracts with that county’s Department of Children and Family Services. About 30 percent of the youth have endured commercial sexual exploitation. [Our italics.]

But Star View is unlike other group homes in California designed to handle foster youth with the greatest mental health needs. All foster youth at Star View are confined behind locked doors, and the staff is authorized to use restraints and seclusion, though state law mandates that such measures must be overseen by a psychiatrist and a registered nurse….

Loudenback notes that there are many questions remaining as California officials gear up to reimagine the use of so-call congregate care, and dispiritingly few concrete answers, particularly when it comes to the state’s most traumatized children.

Posted in law enforcement | 1 Comment »

Reports on Body Cams and Education in Juvie Detention….Who’s Right About Whether Prop. 47 Increased Crime?…and John Oliver Talks Re-Entry

November 10th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


Law enforcement agencies across the nation are rolling out new body camera programs to increase transparency and accountability to the public. And as the debate about the positives and negatives of officer-worn body cameras heats up, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and Upturn, have released an examination of 25 police departments’ body cam policies that looks at whether those policies are adequately protecting citizens’ civil rights.

Included on the scorecard were the Los Angeles Police Department, the San Francisco Police Department, and the Oakland Police Department. Researchers evaluated the departments on eight criteria, including whether the body cam policy was made available to the public, whether officers could view video before filing reports or statements, and whether officers were given discretion on when to start recording.

The LAPD received positive marks for limiting officers’ discretion, and releasing the body-worn camera policy to the public, but negative marks in other areas. For instance, the department requires officers to review footage before writing reports. (In contrast, the LA County Sheriff’s Dept. requires the officers to provide statements before viewing footage.) The LAPD does not generally make footage available to people filing complaints and has not publicly addressed how long the department will retain footage.

Back in July, WLA attended a panel at KPCC’s Crawford Family Forum to discuss these very issues, with particular emphasis on how much access the public should have to the body cam videos. And in September, the US Department of Justice gave $1.1 million to the LAPD to purchase the cameras, despite ACLU of Southern California protests about the department’s policy to keep most video footage of officer-involved shootings under wraps.

In absence of comprehensive civil rights safeguards sewn into body cam policies, “these devices could become instruments of injustice, rather than tools of accountability,” said Wade Henderson, president of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “We hope that our scorecard will encourage reform and help departments develop body camera policies that promote accountability and protect the rights of those being recorded.”


Only thirteen states actually provide education services (including credit recovery programs, GED preparation, and postsecondary classes) for incarcerated kids that equal the quality of education-related services that kids receive at public schools in their communities, according to a first-of-its-kind study by the Council of State Governments Justice Center.

“Educationally, these kids have fallen way behind their peers,” said Kent McGuire, head of the Southern Education Foundation. “It’s hard to think of a group of youth more acutely in need of educational services.”

Even fewer states—just nine—ensure locked-up kids have access to the same quality vocational services as their peers on the outside.

And states generally don’t collect enough data on education in juvenile detention facilities, either, according to the report. Less than a third of states were tracking how many kids released from detention facilities went on to finish high school.

In nearly half of states, kids were not automatically enrolled at a public school, once released, the re-enrollment responsibility was left up to parents. Kids were enrolled in (generally underperforming) alternative schools upon their release, in a third of states.

One particularly interesting recommendation to fix some of these issues, was to designate a single entity to oversee kids’ transition back into public schools or into vocational programs, once they exit lock-up.

The study data came from a survey of agencies in all 50 states.


In a video message that was part of a series of Prop. 47-related editorials in the LA Times, LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell said the year-old California law is responsible for higher crime rates. (link) Many law enforcement officials agree.

Just a few days before McDonnell’s video editorial messages, Stanford released a controversial report suggesting that because there was only a 5% recidivism rate among those who were released under Prop. 47, rising crime rates in California should not be attributed to the 2014 law. (link)

Who is right about the outcome (so far) of Prop. 47? Maybe both, or maybe neither.

LA Times editorial board member Rob Greene says that the opposing arguments are missing key components and some context. Here’s a clip:

Of the 4,454 state prisoners who were able to leave prison early because they had felonies reclassified as misdemeanors, 159 have returned to prison for committing new crimes in the last year. That’s a return-to-prison rate of less than 5%. And yes, that’s incredibly low, especially when compared with the pre-Proposition 47 general return-to-prison rate of 42%.

And that’s important, because much of the criticism of Proposition 47, as with many criminal justice reform measures, is that it endangers the public by releasing serious and violent criminals “early” – or at least earlier than they would have been released without the reform. These numbers point to a weakness in that argument. The more serious and violent offenders often have a fairly low recidivism rate compared with the general jail and prison population.

As the report notes, though, recidivism has necessarily been measured only for the one year since Proposition 47 passed, not the three years that’s become the standard for recidivism measurements.

And it counts only offenders who left prison within the last year because of Proposition 47 and already have gone back – to prison — after having committed new crimes. It doesn’t count new convictions that might have resulted in jail or probation. Nor does it count arrests. That’s a big deal, because if a meth addict who got out of prison continues to take meth and steals in increments of less than $950 to support his habit, now he’s not going to be arrested for it. Or else he’s going to go to jail — but because he’s not going to state prison, this study doesn’t include him as a recidivist. More time and more study will be needed for a fuller picture.

McDonnell says Proposition 47 has increased crime, but he’s not blaming those people referred to in the Stanford study. He’s got a different population on his mind — the drug and theft offenders who used to get arrested and held in jail pending trial. Instead of getting arrested, those people are now just getting citations and orders to appear in court. Few actually show up for their court dates…

Since the measure passed a year ago, up to the time when these videos were shot in mid-October, according to the sheriff’s numbers, 43,062 people in Los Angeles County were arrested for crimes that used to be felonies but now, because of Proposition 47, are misdemeanors. Of those, 21,030, or nearly half, have been arrested again for an additional 39,939 crimes, including 26 murders, 14 rapes and 83 robberies.

Those numbers would appear to support the critics’ basic argument: When you don’t jail these people on drug and other relatively minor charges, they are free to commit all manner of more serious crimes, including murder, rape and robbery, and they do.

But there are some problems with that argument. Before Proposition 47, many of those accused criminals would have been arrested and jailed, but then would have bailed out — so they’d have been on the street anyway, still able to commit those more serious crimes. A complete study would compare McDonnell’s numbers with a similar group that got arrested, jailed and bailed out.


John Oliver has been on a roll on his HBO show, Last Week Tonight, featuring areas of the criminal justice system desperately in need of reform, from cash bail to civil asset forfeiture to mandatory minimums.

This Sunday, Oliver shined a light on the incredible odds stacked against people exiting prison and re-entering their communities. Former felony offenders face tons of roadblocks to education, housing, employment, public assistance, and more. And many former offenders are carted right back into the prison system because of minor parole violations.

Oliver ends the show in conversation with Bilal Chatman, a man who beat the odds after being released from prison, landing a good job and starting a new life. “I’m not that prisoner today,” Bilal told Oliver. “I’m a taxpayer. I work. I’m a citizen. I’m a voter. That’s who I want to be. Those are the things that define me today.”

Watch the full segment above.

Posted in criminal justice | 1 Comment »

Exploring What’s Next on the Criminal Justice Reform Agenda

November 9th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


Juan, once homeless and addicted to heroin, was arrested when he broke into a warehouse. “It was empty, I just needed a place to sleep,” Juan said. The police found drugs on Juan, and charged him for possession, which was prosecuted as a felony. The arrest was not his first and he went to prison on what was originally a multi-year sentence. Juan said that he had been in and out of prison since 1983. “I became a real bad drug addict,” he said. “I burned every bridge in my family.”

After the 2014 passage of California’s Proposition 47, however, Juan was eligible for reduction of his conviction from a felony to a misdemeanor, and he was released earlier this year.

(Prop. 47 is the state initiative that reduced six non-serious felonies to misdemeanors.)

When he got out, Juan received little or no reentry assistance, and was fearful he’d slip back into his addiction. “I knew I needed more help,” he said. He’d heard about a drug rehab center called the Amity Foundation, and managed to snag a spot in their program. “I have a job today,” Juan said, tearing up as he explained that he now works at Ruth Chris Steakhouse in Beverly Hills and has stayed clean since his release from Amity. He has also repaired relationships with family members that he said he lost to his heroin addiction.

“All of the money I used to get went straight to the drugs…but today it goes to Chase,” he said, referring to the JP Morgan Chase Bank. “I have a debit card!” Juan said with a delighted grin. Now his family members ask him for a loan rather than the other way around, Juan said.

Juan told his story to a ballroom full of lawmakers, academics, and criminal justice reform advocates, with a sprinkling of state and local officials, all of whom gathered in LA’s Millennium Biltmore Hotel on Wednesday, November 4, the one-year anniversary of the passage of Prop. 47. The crowd showed up for this all-day “summit” called Smart on Safety to discuss next steps in the world of California’s justice reform.


One of the day’s most talked about panels featured San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón and Santa Clara County DA Jeff Rosen, who are two of only three of the state’s district attorneys (out of 58) who publicly endorsed Prop. 47. The prosecutors talked about their separate paths to the realization that California’s criminal justice system was in need of serious restructuring. Gascon and Rosen each made the point that prosecutors are in a unique position to bring about meaningful reform if they widen their perspectives.

Telling the story of his journey through law enforcement, which included serving as Assistant Chief of the LAPD, and San Francisco Chief of Police, Gascón said that it became “increasingly obvious” to him that “the doors to the prisons and the jails” are controlled by district attorneys. “District attorneys are the ones who decide who gets prosecuted, how they’re going to get prosecuted,” and to a great degree, the length of their sentence. As a result, they also have great power to affect reform, he said.

DA Rosen, who recently traveled to Germany to tour that country’s progressive prison system, told of his own awakening from the punishment-focused mindset, “I began to understand that, first of all, the distinction between crime victim and defendant is often artificial, and many of the defendants we were prosecuting were victimized early in their lives…and that if we did a better job helping people that were victims of crime, we may have fewer defendants in the future.”


In a later panel, Robert Rooks, the organizing director for Californians for Safety and Justice, and the former national criminal justice director for the NAACP, laid out a list of five areas for justice reform in the state that he felt were the most important for the gathered crowd to consider. In that CSJ is the non-profit that was the main organizer behind the passage of Prop 47, audience members listened carefully.

Rooks’ five-point “blueprint for reform” contained the following:

1. “We believe that we must get Smart on Jails,” he said. “We have too many people that are stuck [in jail] because of the cash bond system.” He also said he was inspired by a new pilot program in seattle called LEAD—Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion—in which cops participate in referrals to community programs, pre-booking.

2. “We also need to be Smart on Sentencing,” he said. For example, “we have thousands people incarcerated today on a non-serious second strike offense…. ”

3. Next on Rooks’ list was Smart on Youth and Adult Sentences. “Prop 21 has been talked about a number of times today,” he said, referring to the California ballot initiative passed in 2000 that increased a variety of criminal penalties for crimes committed by youth, and made it far easier to transfer young law-breakers into the adult criminal justice system. “It’s so past time to stop having babies as young as 14 being tried as adults. So it’s time to go to the ballot to overturn prop 21.”

4. “Smart on Reentry” was next up. If reentry is done right, he said, and some of the present barriers to success are removed that prevent the formerly incarcerated from succeeding, public safety is greatly enhanced, “And it builds trust back in the system.”

5. Last Rooks pointed to Smart on Safety, which he said meant Investing “in programs to help people”—trauma recovery centers, mental health treatment programs, more funding for schools. “We have a billion dollars still locked up in the criminal justice system. We need to get that money out and invest it in programs in the community.”


Among the day’s the most persuasive voices calling for criminal justice reform was former film producer Scott Budnick, best known for producing the Hangover movie franchise, who left Hollywood behind to found the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC).

Budnick was instrumental in pushing for the 2013 passage of California’s SB 260, a law that gave a second chance at parole to kids who were convicted of murder before the age of 18 and sentenced to life-without-parole. He also was a prime mover behind SB 261, which built on 260, expanding parole eligibility to age 23, and was signed into law this year.

When questioned by panel moderator, Alex Johnson, executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund, CA, Budnick said he thought it was the personal testimony of those locked up for youthful crimes that was, to a great degree, responsible for the surprising passage of SB 261.

“It was the stories of the people going into legislature, saying ‘This is who I was when I was 14. This is who I was when I was 20. I made the worst mistake of my life. I got locked up… The system didn’t change my life… I chose to change my life, and now I’m out, and this is what I’m doing.’ And no matter if we were sitting with democrats, moderate democrats, or republicans, those stories blew their minds. And that was the game changer.”

Budnick talked about when he got his own mind blown at California State Prison at Pelican Bay, where he and a small cadre of advocates and attorneys held a seminar with people who had been convicted as juveniles, who were now locked in solitary confinement, but who could qualify for parole consideration under 260 and 261.

One of the encounters Budnick had was with a man who was about 60 years old. “I can’t get it out of my memory,” said Budnick. The man had been incarcerated for around 40 years for a teenage crime. Thirty of those years had been spent in isolation. “And when we told him about SB 260, he started weeping….knowing that he had the ability to now come home,” Budnick continued. Because the man was still solitary, Budnick could not talk to him face-to-face. Instead “he stuck his little finger through the hole in the cage and he shook my finger and said, ‘You’re the first person I’ve ever touched in 30 years.’”

Among the reform targets that Budnick wants to focus on next, he said, are the sentencing “enhancements” now on the books in California that can turn a relatively short sentence into one of multiple decades for young people, particularly if that young person can be labeled a gang member.

Panel member, Elizabeth Calvin, a children’s rights attorney for Human Rights Watch, agreed and listed additional justice issues affecting kids that she has in her radar. Front and center for Calvin is the matter of solitary confinement for juveniles, and the process of deciding whether or not a young person will be tried as adult, a decision she noted was once was in the hands of judges, that now, she said, was determined by prosecutors “about 70 percent” of the time.

In order to share some of the compelling justice stories he and fellow activists have witnessed, Budnick announced that he was working to raise $300 million to launch a new social justice-focused film company. The mission, Budnick said, was solely “to tell the right stories, and change the narrative.”


Philanthropic foundations, from the California Endowment, the Ford Foundation, the WK Kellogg Foundation, the Rosenberg Foundation, and the California Wellness Foundation, are all significant players in the state’s justice reform movement, and each of those foundations had representatives at the summit who talked about why their organizations were so committed.

For instance, Dr. Gail Christopher, who is the vice president and senior advisor at the WK Kellogg Foundation, talked about race and incarceration, arguing that that if we as a nation don’t own up to that “absurd notion,” of a “hierarchy of human value” which leads to “disparities in education…healthcare access, residential segregation, lack of affordable housing,” a large percentage of the next generation will find themselves behind bars, too.

Building on Dr. Christopher’s points, Dr. Robert K. Ross, President of the California Endowment said that justice reform work is “uncomfortable for many of our colleagues in the [philanthropy] field… because it forces us to confront issues of race and power.”

Foundations are much more comfortable funding research,” Dr. Ross said. “Getting the data out, and trusting that little elves will take those papers and turn them into really good public policies,” he continued.

Ross said that only within the last five years has the Endowment, a private foundation traditionally advocating for health access and equity in communities state-wide, focused on criminal justice reform as a health issue.

“We had our view of what a healthy community looked like. We had our data, and our slides, and our charts,” said Ross. “And then, the community told us what their definition of a healthy community was. Included in their definition…was the disruption and the dismantling of the prison pipeline. We could not escape that conversation anywhere we went.

As the day came to a close (following a bunch of discussions between heavy-hitter panelists about issues like the connection between community health care and public safety, and racial bias in policing, and arts in reentry and rehabilitation), civil rights attorney Van Jones praised California activists for helping to trigger the beginnings of bi-partisan reform on a national level. “The leadership in this room is changing the country,” Jones said. And still, miles remain on the road to equality in the criminal justice system.

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“Fake” Classes Lawsuit Settled, Training Campus Cops to Work With Kids, & LASD Excessive Force Allegations

November 6th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


On Thursday, the state of California settled a landmark lawsuit on behalf of California high school students who wasted valuable education time because they were assigned fake, empty classes.

Under the Cruz v. State of California settlement, the California Department of Education, the Board of Education, and State Superintendent Tom Torlakson will start work immediately to make sure that students at low-income schools, such as the six schools named, “are provided the same equal access to educational opportunities regardless of zip code or income,” according to a statement from Public Counsel, one of the law firms that filed the suit along with the ACLU of Southern California, with pro bono support from Carlton Fields Jorden Burt and Arnold & Porter LLP.

The settlement is an add-on to AB 1012, a bill signed last month by CA Gov. Jerry brown that bans school districts from placing kids in pretend classes without any educational instruction for more than a week per semester with some exceptions, (which has been a problem for students in the LA Unified, Compton, and Oakland School Districts, among others).

Thursday’s settlement “ends the practices in certain California underperforming high schools of assigning students to sham classes, garbage detail, mindless errands, and even dismissing students early, instead of enrollment in rigorous classes needed for graduation,” and to “compete successfully for higher education and productive jobs,” said Mark Rosenbaum, director of Public Counsel Opportunity Under Law.

Specifically the settlement will require the development of systems to monitor when kids are assigned these non-instructional classes. For the next two years, the state also must provide tech support and other assistance to the six schools in LA, Compton, and Oakland if they experience scheduling problems or if there are too many kids assigned to fake classes.

Public Counsel and ACLU SoCal filed the lawsuit last year, with pro bono support from Carlton Fields Jorden Burt and Arnold & Porter LLP.

In response to the settlement, David Sapp, director of education advocacy at ACLU SoCal, said, “We commend the state education agencies for working with us to develop a process for providing support and assistance to schools that clearly were struggling with one of the most important functions of a school: to educate students for the full school day.”

We at WLA have been closely following this issue. Last October, an Alameda County Superior Court judge issued a Temporary Restraining Order demanding the California Department of Education help the LAUSD fix scheduling issues at LA’s Thomas Jefferson High School that gave kids filler classes and sent them home early, throwing many off the track to graduation. (Read that story: here.)


Twelve states, including California, require specific training for officers to complete before they can work in schools. But the training varies across the states and does not always include material on how to work with students and how to address trauma and de-escalate confrontations with kids in crisis and kids with disabilities.

The Atlantic’s Mark Keierleber takes a look at the issue, and why schools rely so heavily on police officers to discipline kids. Here are some clips:

There are about 19,000 sworn police officers stationed in schools nationwide, according to U.S. Department of Justice estimates, and stories about their school-discipline disasters cross Mo Canady’s desk all the time.

“The first thing I do is search our database to see ‘Did this person come through our training?’” said Canady, the executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers, which offers specialized training to SROs—primarily on a voluntary basis. “And the answer is consistently ‘no.’”

Confrontations between armed police officers and students in schools are becoming more frequent—arrests are up according to an August report for the National Association of State Boards of Education—and more high-profile because of both cell phones and social media. They are also being increasingly scrutinized for bias and alleged brutality in the same way as encounters on the street have become between cops and adult civilians.

These incidents, youth-rights activists and federal officials argue, show that the school resource officers lack the proper training needed to interact effectively with children, especially when they are black, Hispanic, or disabled. The very students, advocates say, are being funneled from the classroom to the courtroom.


Little data has been collected on the level of training officers receive. Only 12 states have laws that specify training requirements for officers deployed to classrooms, and those laws are inconsistent: Some states mandate training on how to respond to an active shooter. Fewer focus on dealing with children differently than adults.

“All officers are getting a certain level of training that they’re required to get as police officers,” said Nina Salomon, a senior policy analyst at the Council of State Governments Justice Center. “The additional training that we’re talking about—on youth development, on working with youth, on prevention and de-escalation—hasn’t typically been received by the majority of law enforcement that work with youth inside a school building, or that are called to campus.”

In districts like Richmond, CA, and Los Angeles, SROs take comprehensive trauma-informed course from a nonprofit called Strategies for Youth that includes information on how kids brains develop, and training for recognizing and addressing implicit bias as well as mental illness and substance abuse, without using force unnecessarily.

A Los Angeles Police Department detective, Richard Askew, said his time as an educator and as an SRO influenced his understanding of the way children behave and interact with authority.

Before joining the LAPD, Askew worked for two years at a charter school serving at-risk students aged 16-24 who were unable to stay engaged with traditional or alternative methods. Joining LAPD’s juvenile narcotics division, Askew was planted in L.A. schools as an undercover investigator.

In 2009, he joined LAPD’s mental-evaluation unit, a partnership with the department of mental health to interact with people who struggle from mental-health issues. He also became a Strategies for Youth trainer.

“SROs generally have a pretty big impact on campuses for students because of their authority positions and how they’re perceived,” Askew said.

Once an officer is selected as an SRO, they receive in-house training on school-district policies and procedures and 40 hours of SRO training from the state police academy, he said. Just a few months ago, all of the department’s officers were taught how to avoid implicit bias.

California does have a law setting training requirements for SROs. But until standardized training is required, most of the officers who do seek additional coursework are acting out of common sense, Canady said. Police departments would ensure officers in investigations units are properly trained.

So why not those who work in schools?

“Officers working in schools, just out of the nature of the assignment, are going to become the most well-known police officers or sheriff’s deputies in your community, and you’d better have some additional training for them, and you’d better make sure it’s the right person,” Canady said, “or you’re going to wind up potentially giving your department a black eye.”


The family of a Lynwood father and son who were bystanders arrested by Los Angeles County deputies in March says that newly surfaced footage shows deputies using excessive force on the two men. In the video taken by neighbors, officers appear to use pepper spray, a baton, and a taser while arresting Marco Arevalo and his father, who were charged with rioting and resisting arrest. The family’s lawyer says the video tells a much different story than the deputies’ account, and calls for a federal investigation into the incident.

ABC7′s Carlos Granda has the story. Here’s a clip:

The video shows deputies arresting one person on the sidewalk outside a home as two other men, Marco Arevalo and his father, stand nearby.

Arevalo and his father are then told to go inside their home by deputies.

A few seconds later, video allegedly shows deputies tossing the father over a bush, then hitting his son with a baton.

Deputies then appear to use pepper spray, and a taser the son.

The family claims deputies lied about what happened.

“Deputy Shaffer, who arrives last, says that my client was trying to run inside the house, that the baton strikes did nothing to stop him and that he was in fear that my client would go in the house and get a weapon,” the family’s attorney Michael Carrillo said. “As you can see the baton strikes did have an effect, they dropped him.”

Carrillo said the deputies even testified at a court hearing that Arevalo and his father were threatening them.

The father and son faced charges of rioting and resisting an officer, but Carrillo said the video changed everything.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Stanford Report Looks at Prop 47 Data, LA Sheriff Records Videos About Prop 47, SF Has a New Sheriff…and More

November 5th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


California’s release of thousands of prisoners through 2014′s Proposition 47 has not led to an increase in crime, according to a controversial Stanford report released this week.

In the year since the implementation of Prop. 47, which reduced six low-level felonies to misdemeanors, only 5% of the nearly 4,500 released early from jails and prisons have returned to lock-up. Pre-Prop. 47, 42% of state inmates went back to prison within a year of their release. It’s still too soon to calculate the full impact of the proposition on crime rates. And while the recidivism data recorded by the state prior to Prop. 47 is limited, the Stanford study suggests that the unusually low recidivism rate among Prop. 47ers indicates that higher crime rates in California should not be attributed to the 2014 law.

Since last November, there are 13,000 fewer inmates in CA prisons and jails. That number is significant because it means that fewer inmates have to be released early due to overcrowding. The study found that because of Prop. 47, counties reduced those early releases by 35%.

Stanford researchers estimated the state and counties will save a combined $300 million annually, from which $150 million will be earmarked for mental health and substance abuse treatment, efforts to reduce truancy in public schools, and services for crime victims.

In an interview on the blog, Stanford Lawyer , the report’s author, Justice Advocacy Project’s director, Michael Romano, discusses his findings, the ways he says Prop. 47 has been successful, as well as criticism of the law. Here are some clips:

News about rising crime rates has been getting a lot of attention lately. Is that the case in California—is crime going up here?

Romano: LA is reporting a rise in crime; other counties are reporting a decrease in crime. But there’s no state-wide crime data available yet. There is no evidence connecting Proposition 47 with crime rates. However, as I said, the data really isn’t in yet.

Where is that coming from?

Romano: I think the LA police department, which is obviously the biggest and most important in the state. I don’t doubt that their data is correct, but data provided by other counties and other police departments shows that crime in those counties is going down. Now, how each county reports crime and what they each consider to be property crime, versus violent crime, it’s all different, county to county, so it’s very difficult to say apples to apples.

Is there a correlation between a rise in crime, if there really is one, and Proposition 47?

Romano: There is no evidence that there’s a correlation. The correlation that is suggested by some law enforcement officials, frankly, does not square with the available data and, certainly, the data that has been released by state agencies—including the Department of Corrections, which indicates that those who’ve been released early under Proposition 47 are not responsible for the crimes being reported.

There have been several op-eds in the LA Times about Proposition 47, some critical of it. Marc Debbaudt, president of the Association of Deputy District Attorneys, said in one that criminal history is no longer taken into account for sentencing since passage of Proposition 47, even a history of serious crime, such as armed robbery and assault with a deadly weapon, which is contrary to what I’ve read about Proposition 47. Is he just wrong about that?

Romano: No. He’s right in that if you were convicted of an assault in the past and sentenced and served your time and then released, you start with a clean slate. If you commit a drug crime, then you are sentenced for that new drug crime. The punishment for that new crime has reduced from a presumptive sentence of 18 months to a presumptive sentence of one year.


Romano: There has been a lot of misinformation spread about Proposition 47 and I hope that this report helps paint a realistic picture based on real data.

The initiative was supported by key law enforcement individuals including San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón and William Lansdowne, former San Diego police chief. And Derek Byers, President of the California Public Defender’s Association, has voiced optimism about the data highlighted in your report.

Romano: Overwhelmingly, the people who have spoken up against Proposition 47 are folks in law enforcement who opposed it in the first place, who are now apparently seeing some rise in crime in their jurisdiction and, rather than looking to their own policies or other outside trends, are blaming concerns about public safety on Proposition 47, without any empirical data to support those claims.


Continuing the LA Times’ editorial series on Prop. 47, LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell recorded a series of videos of his take on Prop. 47 and its effects a year after its implementation. Sheriff McDonnell says that the law has removed consequences beyond citations for certain offenses, and has made Californians less safe than they were a year ago.

For a successful Prop. 47, Sheriff McDonnell says, “we should have front-loaded the treatment portion with funding from the state.” Because substance abuse and mental health diversion courts were set up to serve people facing felonies with longer sentences, participation in these alternative courts is down 60% in Los Angeles. (In a separate op-ed for the Times, Superior Court Judge Stephen V. Manley, who founded Santa Clara County’s mental health and drug courts, said that for the courts to survive, they can and must evolve.)

McDonnell discusses the department’s use of risk assessment and triage with regard to jail overcrowding and which offenders stay locked up and which are released early. The sheriff also says he believes that a climate of mistrust and scrutiny of law enforcement across the nation may be responsible for rising crime, by making officers afraid to be proactive.

Go watch the sheriff’s video messages.

The Times had two more recent additions to the Prop. 47 series.

As the nation turns its attention to the 6,000 federal prisoners granted early release, a Times editorial says the most crucial thing for those 6,000 and the thousands released from California’s prisons and jails is reentry: substance abuse and mental health services, housing, employment and other services that are often underdeveloped and underfunded.

The editorial makes the case that while official Prop. 47 funds will not be available to use for reentry services until next year, there’s still untapped savings (from the reduction in felony prosecutions) that the state and local municipalities could put to work right now to beef up support for people exiting lock-up. Here’s a clip:

Prisoners come home every day. About 9,000 California inmates completed their sentences and returned home each month during the worst of the state’s prison crowding crisis. Their prospects for staying on the straight-and-narrow were not great because in-prison treatment and rehabilitation programs were too few to meet the need, and because the prisons were (according to federal judges) “criminogenic” — meaning the environment made it more likely that inmates who returned to their neighborhoods would return to crime. Yet as large numbers left prison, crime rates kept falling. Offenders were reabsorbed into society in fairly large numbers without touching off crime waves.

Those releases, however, have been accompanied by increases in the number of people living in misery on the streets who suffer from mental illness and drug addiction. It doesn’t take a leap of imagination to see the connection. The problem of draconian punishments for nonviolent acts such as drug possession is being addressed in large part by the resentencing and release of prisoners. But prisoners coming home without drug or mental health treatment, without jobs, without housing and without reentry counseling and support — this is a different problem and is a long way from resolution. When inmates were being released at a steady pace of 9,000 or 10,000 a month, society’s failure to offer assistance could be conveniently ignored. That will be harder to do as sentences are shortened and the number of prisoners coming home becomes larger.

In a third entry in the Times series,
the editorial board urges legislators to eliminate the three-year deadline for people with old felony convictions to take advantage of Prop. 47, in part because so many of those eligible are still unaware of the opportunity. Here’s a clip:

…old felony records still keep most of those people from fully taking their places in society, even if they have lived crime-free for decades.

Should that matter to the rest of us? It should. It’s a basic American value that people who have done their time ought to be able to return to society with their rights and opportunities restored, especially when the crime in question was neither violent nor serious. The crimes are still crimes, and the rap sheets won’t disappear, but the records should be updated to reflect the fact that the offenses are now misdemeanors, not felonies.

Many people with felony records remain legally marginalized, unable to get good-paying jobs, inadmissible to many schools and virtually ineligible to care for foster children or even their own kids. All told, according to some studies, they are burdened by more than 4,000 restrictions that don’t apply to people with only misdemeanor records. It’s in the interest of all Californians to ensure that as many former offenders as possible can transition from incarceration to responsible positions in society as parents, breadwinners and members of their communities.


Ross Mirkarimi lost his re-election bid for San Francisco Sheriff on Tuesday to Vicki Hennessy.

Hennessy, who won by a landslide, says she wants to repair the department’s relations with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, choosing on a “case by case” basis” when to notify ICE that an undocumented inmate is about to be released.

The new sheriff’s stance does not seem to fully line up with San Francisco’s “sanctuary city” status, which the SF Supervisors reaffirmed in October, despite criticism, after an undocumented man, whom ICE had wanted for deportation, shot and killed a woman on the pier.

Hennessy says she will also take a serious look at Mirkarimi’s recent decision to house transgender inmates according to their gender identities.

The NY Times’ Laura Holson has the story. Here’s a clip:

Ms. Hennessy will succeed Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, whose four-year term was marked by personal scandals, confrontations with Mayor Edwin M. Lee, and — perhaps most dramatically — the release of an illegal immigrant in his jail who had several felonies.

The felon he released, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, had been deported to Mexico five times and, after winning freedom here, proceeded to shoot a tourist named Kathryn Steinle to death on a pier on the Embarcadero waterfront. The issue prompted San Francisco to re-examine — and reaffirm — its commitment to being a sanctuary city, one that shields immigrants from deportation.

Ms. Hennessy, who was backed by the mayor, said she would take a more inclusive approach in working with federal immigration officials, reviewing on a “case-by-case basis” whether to notify them when an unauthorized immigrant with a criminal record was due for release.

Ms. Hennessy said she did not have a political agenda but wanted to bring a sense of calm back to the Sheriff’s Department; many of Mr. Mirkarimi’s deputies had campaigned for her and against him. She takes office in January.

“I was an executive and manager for 25 years,” she said. “We are going to agree to disagree, but we will get things done together.”

Posted in Sentencing | 6 Comments »

New Child Welfare Czar, Teen’s Transformation in Juvie Probation Camp, and Oprah Interviews Bryan Stevenson

November 4th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


On Tuesday, in a 4-1 decision, the LA County Board of Supervisors officially appointed Judge Michael Nash as the county’s child welfare czar.

Starting in January, Judge Nash will take over as head of the county’s Office of Child Protection, a position recommended 18 months ago by a blue ribbon commission convened to jumpstart much-needed reforms in the county’s child welfare system.

“I’m humbled by the fact that you’ve come to me and asked me to tackle this really important work,” Nash told the board members.

Nash also told the Supes he was anxious to work with them to “help our child protection system here in Los Angeles County—if not achieve its true potential in how we help children and families—come a lot closer than we are today.”

Nash’s experience includes serving as the presiding judge of LA County’s juvenile court. Before that, Nash served as a dependency court judge. (Read about Nash’s efforts to bring transparency and accountability to the children’s court system, here, and DCFS, here.)

“When I first became judge of the juvenile court in 1997,” Nash continued. “I pledged that I would do everything I could to foster greater communication, cooperation, and coordination among all of those entities that work with children and families in Los Angeles County. This position requires that. And I expect to hit the ground running and do exactly the same thing, and hopefully we’ll have some really positive results.

The final decision to hire Nash followed months of delays and deliberation.

The lone dissenter, Supervisor Don Knabe issued a statement Tuesday, saying, “Change takes time and we certainly have more to do. What I would hope the County gets out of this lengthy process is someone who will work with the Department and help them continue to be successful. I would be sorely disappointed if all we get are more reports and more unsolicited criticism. Our most vulnerable children deserve better.”

Over at the Chronicle of Social Change, Daniel Heimpel has more on the story, which includes a few rumors and other issues Nash will face as he heads into the new office. Here’s how it opens:

Despite swirling rumors about the potential fallout of Los Angeles County’s Tuesday 4-1-vote to hire Judge Michael Nash as its director of child protection, key players in child welfare and county government do not see it that way.

Top of these rumors was that Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) Director Philip Browning would step down if Nash were selected to head the Office of Child Protection (OCP.)

“Don’t believe all the rumors you may hear,” Browning said in an email. “I have always had a good personal relationship with Judge Nash.”

“I imagine the rumors were generated because as I recall Judge Nash was frustrated with the increase in child detentions a few years ago and believed that more children should remain at home and made comments to the news media. I have always said that children should remain in their own home if that can be done safely. Our highest priority is child safety.”

Another bit of gossip was that outgoing OCP Interim Director Fesia Davenport had grown frustrated about the lengthy hiring process of the permanent director and had withdrawn her name from consideration.

“I had heard the speculation,” Davenport said in an interview. “What I have told people is that if we sit around speculating all day what will happen, who is watching the front door? What we really need at this point in time is to continue moving in the same direction.”

Further, some sources had suggested that Davenport was next in line to lead DCFS in the event that Browning did indeed leave his post. Instead, Davenport said that she is focused on maintaining a high profile in central county government, and is using her last days as OCP director to illustrate how the office can be an effective tool in driving countywide attention to keeping children safe.



The LA Times’ Teresa Watanabe has a not-to-be-missed longread about Stephanie Valdivia, a teenager once considered a “throwaway” by some, who turned her life around through the Road to Success Academy (RTSA) education program at a juvenile probation camp in Santa Clarita.

After stealing almost $30,000 worth of jewelry and clothes from an elderly one-armed woman, 17-year-old Stephanie found herself locked up at Camp Joseph Scott, a facility for LA’s more serious female juvenile offenders. Camp Scott was Stephanie’s last chance to rehabilitate in the juvenile justice system—a merciful act on the part of a LA County Superior Court judge who denied prosecutors’ efforts to have her tried as an adult.

Stephanie, for whom English was a second language, had struggled in school since kindergarten. She also had a history of serious alcohol and drug abuse dating back to age nine. When Stephanie’s probation officer saw her records and met her for the first time, he thought she was “the worst kid ever,” and asked to have her reassigned.

But things changed for Stephanie when started at the camp’s Road to Success Academy, an award-winning alternative education program that provides hands-on learning focusing on “beauty, power, hope, transformation and new beginnings.” At Camp Scott, learning was suddenly fun. The students built miniature bridges and solar-powered rocket ships to learn math and went on a virtual field trip to the Museum of Tolerance to learn about the Holocaust. Stephanie, once a chronic F-student, started to rake in the A’s and B’s. She improved her reading by five grade levels and her math by six grade levels and graduated high school during her year in the RTSA program.

After witnessing Stephanie’s triumphs and turnaround, probation officer even called her “the best kid I’ve had in 26 years.”

The education program has had such tremendous success at Camp Scott and the adjacent girls Camp Kenyon Scudder, that LA County Office of Education is now in the process of rolling out RTSA at other LA probation camps.

But Stephanie’s reentry back into her neighborhood, near to old friends still caught up in drugs, has been far from an easy transition.

Here’s a clip from Watanabe’s story (but go over to the LA Times for the rest of the story and for the excellent pictures chronicling Stephanie’s journey by photojournalist Barbara Davidson):

Stephanie was stoned on crystal meth when she walked through an unlocked screen door in North Hollywood in May 2013, confronted the one-armed, elderly woman inside and stole nearly $30,000 in jewelry and clothes.

She was also implicated in a residential burglary that day and, a week later, was arrested for burglary at K-Mart.

Stephanie was 17 with a long history of problems. Boozing since she was 9, then on to weed, ecstasy, cocaine, mushrooms, acid, methamphetamine. A Sun Valley High report card riddled with flunking grades and truancies. And a rap sheet of burglaries reaching back to 2010.

The Juvenile Court judges had given her plenty of chances. They had placed her on probation. They had put her under house arrest. They had sent her away to a drug rehabilitation group home. But she had failed to turn her life around.

So when Stephanie got caught for the North Hollywood crimes, L.A. prosecutors had had enough. They moved to try her as an adult, which could have meant years in state prison.

Eileen Pasternak, the North Hollywood robbery victim, also wanted tough action.

“What she did was horrific,” Pasternak said. “I wanted them to throw the book at her.”

But L.A. County Superior Court Judge Robert J. Schuit decided to give Stephanie a final shot at rehabilitation in the juvenile system. In September 2013, he sentenced her to a year at Camp Joseph Scott, a probation facility for girls enclosed by barbed-wire fences amid sagebrush and rolling canyons in Santa Clarita.

Stephanie would be entering a system forced into dramatic change after federal and local investigations found widespread mistreatment and neglect of incarcerated youth.

Since county officials settled a class-action lawsuit involving one of the camps five years ago, the education office has rolled out an award-winning school model that transformed camp instruction, among other reforms. The nation’s largest probation department, meanwhile, is attempting what Chief Jerry Powers calls a sweeping “culture shift” from a disciplinary boot-camp style to a therapeutic approach.

But would it work for Stephanie?

Read on.


Superstar civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson appeared on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday, and we didn’t want you to miss it. Stevenson talks with Oprah about his book Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, his own journey to mercy, and his work to win freedom for innocent death row inmates and others who have experienced injustice in the justice system through his non-profit, the Equal Justice Initiative.

Watch the full episode here.

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