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LA County Child Abuse and Neglect Report…Sheriff McDonnell on AirTalk…and Rehabilitation, Reentry, and “Human Frailty”

May 11th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

REPORT GIVES RECOMMENDATIONS ON HOW TO BETTER CATCH AND PREVENT CHILD ABUSE AND NEGLECT

On Tuesday, the Inter-Agency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect (ICAN) presented a colossal, 310-page report on child abuse and neglect in LA County to LASD Sheriff Jim McDonnell and LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey.

The council, brought into being by the LA County Board of Supervisors in the ’70s, gathers data from—and direct recommendations to—county agencies that have a role in child safety and welfare.

Among the more noteworthy recommendations, was a call for the Department of Children and Family Services, Probation, LASD, LAPD and other agencies to share case information with hospital staff to help identify and prevent (or treat) child abuse. The report points out that the 63 LA County-area hospitals, which see 400 injured toddlers and newborns every day, may not have adequate abuse and neglect screening in place, highlighting the need for structured inter-agency information sharing.

There were 181,926 referrals to DCFS of child abuse or neglect during 2014, up 3% over the previous year, and the highest referral rate in nearly two decades. The report suggests that the increase in referrals may have played some part in the county’s decrease in the number of kids killed by parents or caregivers, which dropped from 19 in 2013 to 15 in 2014. “It appears that more referrals result in safer children,” the report reads.

The report points out that LA County, which oversees the nation’s largest child welfare system, is uniquely positioned to serve as a model for other cities, counties, and states.

Read the rest of the recommendations and dive into the report: here.


“HUMAN FRAILTY” AND THE LIMITATIONS OF REHABILITATION STRATEGIES FOR REDUCING RECIDIVISM

The Boston Reentry Study, which followed 135 male and female state prisoners as they returned to their Boston neighborhoods between 2012 and 2013, found their subjects experienced a high degree of childhood trauma (including violence at home), and were often previously victims of the same violent crimes for which they were later incarcerated.

In an op-ed for the New Yorker, Harvard sociologist Bruce Western, one of the Boston Reentry researchers, found what he termed an underlying vulnerability, or “human frailty,” among some former offenders. Western says that drug addiction and mental illness, often co-occurring with physical maladies, stack the odds against former offenders trying to successfully reenter society. This points to a need for healing interventions much earlier than rehabilitation and other treatment programs can provide, if we really want to reduce prison populations and recidivism rates, Western says. Here are some clips (but go over and read the whole thing, as it’s an interesting take on a complex issue):

It’s no surprise that physical and mental problems go together. Addicts often struggle with issues like chronic pain or manifestations of post-traumatic stress; physical ailments can feed depression and other emotional problems. Those who study poverty and inequality often point to the poor schooling and bad work histories of disadvantaged people. But disadvantage can run much deeper than educational failure and unemployment. In many cases, it has a physical reality that limits a person’s capacity to think clearly, without pain, and to bring energy to daily affairs. Sometimes, a feedback loop takes hold. People with physical- and mental-health problems spend disproportionate time in community health clinics and other institutions for the vulnerable and poor; such places can both help and hurt them. During Aman’s time at Bridgewater, for example, he received treatment for his schizophrenia but was also assaulted by another inmate.

Over the course of the Boston Reentry Study, my team and I wrestled with the problem of how to describe the vulnerability of people like Aman. Ultimately, we settled on “human frailty,” borrowing a term from demographers who study patterns of death across the population. More ambiguous alternatives, like “vulnerability,” could describe the condition of a healthy person who finds him or herself in an unhealthy situation. “Human frailty,” by contrast, inheres within an individual’s mind and body. It persists even when your environment changes.

Among the people we interviewed, mental and physical frailty were startlingly common. In many cases, those frailties derailed their efforts to become better parents, children, neighbors, and citizens.

[SNIP]

The lesson we can learn from frail prisoners like Aman and Carla is that life is a one-way street. Rehabilitative programs are often too little, too late; we need to intercede early. In talking about their lives, our respondents often recalled schools that were unable to respond to serious behavioral or learning problems except through suspension or expulsion. They described how their slides into heroin or crack addiction led straight into the criminal-justice system, rather than into an addiction program. They described using marijuana or heroin to ameliorate chronic mental or physical pain that had gone untreated for years. Our social safety net focusses most of its limited resources on poor mothers, their children, and the elderly; unattached adults often slip through it. It’s only after untreated addiction and mental illness lead to arrests and incarceration that they get help. By investing more in drug treatment, health care, and housing programs, we could offer a basic level of material and bodily security for people with broken minds and bodies who must try and adjust to life after prison.

A realistic public policy, moreover, needs to recognize that stable housing, employment, and a functional family life may be out of reach for the most fundamentally disadvantaged. In these cases, human dignity can at least be respected by enabling the effort to struggle for it. This means, sometimes, providing a place to stay, a transitional job, and support for families even when the outcome is uncertain. In these cases, the struggle itself is intrinsically meaningful. It is meaningful for clients who might envision a better future. It is also meaningful for society as a whole to do something more than abandon the least capable among us. This is difficult ground for our criminal-justice system. From the perspective of human frailty, a program that barely reduces recidivism may still succeed in the formidable challenge of treating with decency people convicted of violence who have struggled all their lives with mental illness, addiction, and disability.


LA COUNTY SHERIFF DISCUSSES TOM ANGEL, PROP 47, AND MORE ON AIRTALK

On KPCC’s AirTalk, Los Angeles Sheriff Jim McDonnell talked with host Larry Mantle about the Tom Angel scandal, why deputies shot into moving cars so many times in 2015(link), what effect former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka’s recent conviction has on the department, and Prop. 47′s savings.

Here are some clips:

…LAPD claims it shot into two vehicles during the years 2010-2014. In both incidents, officers said that the suspects were armed. With the Sheriff’s Department, there were nine times between 2010 and 2014 where deputies fired into the vehicles. In only one case was the person armed with a gun. What’s your response? Do you think those statistics are troubling?

It’s something I want to take a much closer look at. I’m thankful to KPCC for doing the study and giving us some data to look at. I looked at 2015, and we had eight incidents involving shooting at vehicles. Four of those eight incidents have been reviewed administratively by our executive force review committee. Two of those four cases reviewed by the committee contained policy violations, so we’ll deal with those within the system. Four cases in 2015 are still in the review process. There were two shooting-at-vehicle incidents so far in 2016, and they’re both still under review. I believe the unions are in the review process right now with a new and improved policy to make it clearer to folks what our expectations are with regard to shooting at moving vehicles. Across the board, I think there’s universal agreement that it’s not particularly effective, there is potential danger to bystanders and others, and if you can get out of the way of the moving vehicle that’s really goal number one.

So, typically in an investigation, if there is firing on a moving car, the key is going to be whether the deputy felt like he or she was under imminent threat of injury by the vehicle. Will that be the determinant here?

Ultimately, that would be for any use of force. For shooting at a moving vehicle, if the vehicle is the weapon and the individual is not posing an additional threat with a gun or some other type of weapon, our direction on that is do not shoot at the vehicle and move out of the way. We don’t say that universally. There are situations that could arise where it could be an appropriate use of force, where using force in that manner would stop their ability to hurt others. That’s very risky and it’s not a good practice overall, but there are some situations where you come down to the end of the line and you don’t have an alternative.

[SNIP]

Your chief of staff Tom Angel resigned last week after publication of emails he sent while the assistant [police] chief in Burbank. He’d forwarded jokes that made fun of different racial, ethnic, and religious groups. I know it’s a personnel matter, which limits what you can say, but in a case like that with an employee found responsible for something like this, why isn’t an apology sufficient?

Look at the business we’re in. It’s all based on our relationship with the communities we serve. Los Angeles County is probably one of the most diverse counties in the world. It’s critical that we have a great relationship with all of those communities to do our job as well as it can be done. I was quoted as saying that I did not intend to discipline, but the conversation actually was that I had to speak with county council to determine what discipline was available to us because happened four years prior and when he was with another organization. We’ve done a lot of community outreach and are looking at this as an opportunity for all of us to take away some lessons learned and to repair relationships with our community.


ICAN cover art by Eugene Park.

Posted in Foster Care | 7 Comments »

LASD Deputies Sentenced in Jail Abuse Trial

May 10th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

On Monday, Los Angeles Sheriff’s deputies, Joey Aguiar and Mariano Ramirez were sentenced to 18 months and 13 months, respectively, in a federal prison for falsifying incident reports. The two deputies were also charged with (but ultimately, not convicted of) assault for allegedly punching, kicking, pepper spraying and whacking with a flashlight an allegedly non-resistant former Men’s Central Jail inmate named Bret Phillips, on February 11, 2009. Aguiar and Ramirez reportedly falsified reports after the beating, in order to portray the mentally ill Phillips as the violent, out-of-control aggressor.

Aguiar and Ramirez were convicted only of the latter charge of falsifying the reports. The charges of wrongly beating Phillips resulted in a hung jury, with 10 jurors voting to convict.

Why did two jurors decline to convict Ramirez and Aguiar of unlawfully beating Phillips if they unanimously voted to convict the deputies of falsifying their official reports?

Jury forewoman Janet Giampaoli shared some of the things that made it hard for the holdouts to convict the men of assault.

“The injuries that we were shown did not match up with what the prosecution claimed,” Giampaoli said. “In the medical records all we saw was one laceration and two to three superficial abrasions, and a bruised elbow.”

The forewoman said the two holdouts were also bothered by perceived inconsistencies in the testimony of the prosecution’s two primary witnesses, jail Chaplain Paulino Juarez and prison inmate John Maestez, who is serving a 21-year sentence for voluntary manslaughter and who was bussed down from Delano state prison to testify in leg chains. Maestez testified that he had seen the beating, and been very disturbed by it, but had not wanted to testify (and received nothing in exchange for his testimony).

Speaking personally, Giampaoli said that she was not impressed by Maestez, adding that she did think Chaplain Juarez “definitely saw something. But I don’t that what he said he saw was the same thing as what he saw.”

In handing down the sentences, U.S. District Judge Beverly Reid O’Connell said she believed the defendants used excessive force. O’Connell also said she bought the accounts of the prosecution’s two main eyewitnesses.

On the other hand, Judge O’Connell noted that Aguiar, who is now 29, was much younger at the time of the Feb. 2009 beating, and had no other criminal record. And, Ramirez, a 40-year old father of two, had overcome a difficult background, and also had no prior criminal record. So, she said she gave the two a break, handing down less than the 2 years called for by sentencing guidelines. (In addition to the prison time, both men must also do 100 hours of community service.)

Still, O’Connell said, “there has to be a penalty.”

When he spoke to the judge, Aguiar said his family feared for his safety if he was to go to prison, because of his background in law enforcement.

“Phillips feared for his safety,” the judge replied, referring to the mentally ill inmate whom Aguiar and Ramirez were accused of beating and unnecessarily pepper spraying, even though his hands were handcuffed to a waist chain. “You put his life in danger.’ And the defendant’s actions resulted in charges against the victim, said O’Connell.

Both the of the defense attorneys—Vicki Podberesky, representing Ramirez, and Evan Janesse, counsel for Aguiar—questioned why the two deputies should get sentences that were so much higher that the 0 to 6-month sentence that is laid out in the plea deal that former Sheriff Lee Baca has accepted.

“It’s troubling,” said Judge O’Connell, looking, well…troubled. But, she noted, Judge Percy Anderson has yet to actually sentence Baca, possibly implying that Anderson could decide to go outside the agreed upon sentencing guidelines. (Both Baca and former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka are scheduled to be sentenced on different days in June.)

When O’Connell asked federal prosecutors Jennifer Williams and Mack Jenkins about Baca’s far lower proposed sentence, Williams said the matter was “apples and oranges.” In Baca’s case, Williams said, there was no use of force at issue, and Baca is elderly—73 years old. Moreover, Baca admitted to what he’d done before the deal was made, whereas Aguiar and Ramirez had not admitted to using undue force. And if the charges of excessive force were not true, why did they need to falsify their reports?

Jenness, Aguiar’s defense attorney, broke in to opine that the Baca sentence was not apples and oranges, but “politics.”

When the sentences were announced, there were lots of tears from the family members of Aguiar and Ramirez who filled several rows in the courtroom.

“Our whole system relies on the fact that police officers swear to uphold the law,” O’Connell told Ramirez and the rest of the observers.

Posted in LASD | 16 Comments »

Sentence Enhancements, LASD Psychologist Accused of Molesting Kids, and One School’s 100% College-Bound Student Body

May 10th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

OPINION – MICHELLE ALEXANDER SAYS TOSS OUT DRUG SENTENCE ENHANCEMENTS

Sentence “enhancements” on the books in California can turn a sentence of a few years into one of multiple decades.

During it’s first Senate vote, at the end of last month, CA Sen. Holly Mitchell’s bill to get rid of the three-year sentence enhancement for prior drug convictions missed winning a majority, because of three Democrats who voted with Republicans against the bill, and five Democrats who abstained.

Sentence enhancements for drug crimes
disproportionately affect poor and minority people, reduce the likelihood of successful reentry, and are representative of a failed war on drugs, says Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, and former director of the Racial Justice Project at the NorCal ACLU.

Sen. Mitchell’s bill might return this week to the Senate floor for another vote, and Senate and Assembly members should support the measure “as an important step in the state’s belated journey toward justice and healing in our communities.”

Here’s a clip from Alexander’s op-ed:

Sentence enhancements like these were marketed as deterrents to drug use and sales, supposedly out of concern for the harm drugs cause people. But drastic sentences impede rehabilitation and treatment and worsen the odds of successful reintegration.

There is no evidence that enhanced sentences reduce drug availability or the number of people harmed by illicit drug use. After decades of the war on drugs, it is clear that purely punitive approaches to drug crime are counterproductive. Drug use has not declined, controlled substances are now cheaper and more widely available than ever before, and the death rate from drug overdoses continues to rise.

Here in California, thousands of families have been broken apart and communities throughout the state have been destabilized. Instead of helping those targeted by the war on drugs, we have sentenced them not just to prison but to the lifetime of discrimination and stigma that follows it.

It is no secret that the war on drugs has had a grossly disproportionate impact on people who are black, brown and poor. People of color are far more likely to be stopped, searched, arrested, prosecuted, convicted and incarcerated for drug violations than are whites, who can typically commit the same acts in upper- and middle-class neighborhoods without criminal consequences. Sentence enhancements based on prior drug convictions magnify these disparities, falling on those who have been unable to successfully re-integrate into society after earlier prison sentences.


LASD NON-SWORN PSYCHOLOGIST CHARGED WITH CHILD MOLESTATION

On Monday, 41-year-old psychologist Michael Ward, a civilian employee of the LA County Sheriff’s Department, was charged with sodomy of a minor under age 10, four counts of committing a lewd act on a child, two counts of committing a forcible lewd act on a child under 14, and three counts of forcible oral copulation or sexual penetration with a child 10 years old or younger. It’s not yet clear how Ward knows the victims—a 9-year-old boy and 10-year-old girl—or where those alleged crimes took place according to City News Service. Ward pleaded not guilty to the 10 felonies.

A statement released by the sheriff’s department called the charges “deeply troubling,” and said that the “allegations were not as a result of contacts he made within the scope of his work with the Sheriff’s Department.”

Ward, whose job involved training investigative personnel, was relived of duty last week. His bail is set at $2 million. If convicted on all counts, Ward faces life in prison.


WATTS SCHOOL SENDING 100% OF SENIORS TO COLLEGE

For the ninth year in a row, all 56 seniors graduating from Watts’ Verbum Dei High School have been accepted to college. About 70% of the students at Verbum Dei, a private Jesuit school, are Latino, and 30% are black. Most will be the first in their families to attend college. The students—all of whom come from low-income households—participate in a work-study program to pay for part of their tuition. The remaining tuition money comes from scholarships, grants, and fundraisers.

You can read more about the school and its students over at LAist.

Posted in Sentencing | 3 Comments »

Latest LA County Sheriff’s Dept. Jail Inmate Abuse Trial Begins Tuesday

May 9th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


On Tuesday, jury selection begins for one more federal trial
involving members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department who are accused of abusing jail inmates.

The incident in question, which occurred at the county’s Twin Towers Correctional Facility, involves an LASD training officer named Bryan Brunsting and Jason Branum, a young deputy who was under Brunsting’s supervision.

According to the federal indictment, on March 22, 2010, Brunsting allegedly ordered Branum—and another unnamed deputy identified as Deputy B— to assault an inmate named Philip Jones for “verbally disrespecting” a custody assistant. Brunting and Branum then reportedly escorted inmate Philip Jones to an out-of-the-way area that was “not visible to others in the module.” And then, according to the indictment, the three hit, kicked, pepper sprayed “and otherwise assaulted” Jones for his perceived disrespect.

After the incident, Brunting allegedly guided Branum and “Deputy B” in writing up reports that would portray Jones as the aggressor in the situation, to the point that Jones would be charged criminally.

The implication was that the alleged beating and cover-up was not isolated, but that Brunting routinely instructed his trainees in the art of retaliation against perceived slights or acts of “disrespect,” along with methods of disguising any questionable beatings as necessary uses of force to control aggressive inmates.

Deputy B, as it turns out, is Joshua Sather, a then-23-year-old deputy who, at the time, was reportedly only a few weeks out of the academy, who graduated at the top of his recruit class, and who resigned from the department six days after the beating incident. Prior to resigning over the alleged incident, Sather told his uncle, a veteran LASD detective, that his supervisor made him beat up a mentally ill inmate, and then told him to lie about the beating in a report.

The uncle, Steven Sather, after hearing his nephew’s story, drove to twin Towers and had words with Brunsting, about making his nephew “beat up ‘dings,’ ” slang for mentally ill or mentally disabled.

(Robert Faturechi, writing for the LA Times, broke the story of Sather, the “muscled, tattooed rookie” who was deeply distressed at what he was allegedly being “trained” to do, and the detective uncle attempted to protect his nephew from allegedly unethical training officers.)

Following Sather’s allegations, LASD officials launched an investigation and, as had become all too predictable, the department concluded that this had merely been a case of an uncooperative inmate being subdued with appropriate force. The DA’s office also declined to file charges.

The FBI, which was already investigating reports of brutality in the jails, was not so willing to dismiss the deputy’s account so easily.

Now, six years later, Sather will likely be the federal prosecutors’ most crucial witness.

Here’s the indictment that outlines the charges.

The trial comes approximately ten months after the county signed a far reaching agreement for reform with the U.S. Department of Justice concerning the sheriff’s department’s failure to provide a safe, appropriately monitored, non-abusive environment for mentally ill inmates inside the county’s jail system. The agreement, signed in August 2015, was the culmination of two DOJ investigations that span nearly two decades of scrutiny of LA’s county lock-ups, starting in June 1996, “to determine whether the conditions in the jails violated the constitutional rights of its prisoners,” specifically the mentally ill.

The trial also comes a little over a year after the settlement of a massive class action lawsuit brought by the ACLU—-Rosas v. Baca—-which alleged that Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and his top staff condoned a long-standing and widespread pattern of violence and abuse by deputies against those detained in the county’s jails.

More on the new trial later this week.


MONDAY MORNING SENTENCING FOR FORMER SHERIFF’S DEPUTIES IN PREVIOUS JAIL BEATING CASE

And while we’re on the topic of jail abuse and cover-ups, former Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department deputies, Joey Aguiar, and Mariano Ramirez, will be sentenced on Monday morning by U.S. District Court Judge Beverly Reid O’Connell, pursuant to their conviction in early February of falsifying reports against Men’s Central Jail inmate, Bret Phillips, portraying Phillips as the aggressor in a 2009 use of force incident that resulted in the inmate being beaten with fists, sprayed with pepper spray, and struck multiple times with a flashlight, according to the deputies’ own accounts.

The Aguiar/Ramirez verdict was confusing in that the jury voted to convict Aguiar and Ramirez of falsifying official reports, but also acquitted the deputies on the charge of conspiring to violate inmate Bret Phillips’ civil rights.

Then, on a third charge for the alleged beating of Phillips—who according to the government’s witnesses was nonresistant—–ten jurors voted to convict, while two voted to acquit, producing a mistrial on the single count.

Federal prosecutors Jennifer Williams and Mack Jenkins originally planned retry the deputies on the beating charge.

The retrial was prevented when, a few days after the verdict, a deal was struck in which Assistant U.S. Attorneys Williams and Jenkins agreed not to retry. In return, Aguiar and Ramirez, along with their attorneys, Evan Jenness and Vicki Podberesky, agreed not to appeal the deputies’ convictions, or to in any other way challenge them.

Aguiar and Ramirez are expected to receive sentences of around two years in a federal prison.

The case was differed from lot of jail beating allegations in that the 2009 incident was witnessed by a civilian, Chaplain Paulino Juarez, who has been working as a Catholic chaplain at LA County’s Men’s Central Jail since 1998.

The Aguiar/Ramirez sentencing and the new Brunting/Branum trial echo each other in certain ways in that both alleged victims were classified as mentally ill.

More after the sentencing.

Posted in LASD | 7 Comments »

Supervisor Candidates on Foster Care and Juvie Justice…the OC Jailhouse Snitch Blog…High Court Hearing on Brown’s Justice Measure…and Homelessness

May 6th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

FIND OUT WHAT THE 5TH DISTRICT SUPERVISOR HOPEFULS THINK ABOUT CHILD WELFARE, JUVENILE JUSTICE, YOUTH HOMELESSNESS, AND MORE

This week, the Chronicle of Social Change’s Jeremy Loudenback has a series of interviews with the top contenders for LA County Supervisor Michael Antonovich’s fifth district seat. Loudenback asks the candidates’ thoughts on improving the juvenile justice and foster care systems in LA County—both the largest in the nation.

We’ve pulled some relevant clips from each (but do go over and read the interviews):

Bob Huff, is a California state Senator representing the 29th District, covering parts of LA, Orange County, and San Bernardino County. Huff has co-authored a bill with Sen. Holly Mitchell, now signed into law, that allows social workers to know about criminal exemptions given to potential foster parents and care providers. Now, Huff is co-authoring another bill with Mitchell that increases the potential foster parent pool and cuts down on delays when kids are being placed with their relatives.

Los Angeles County has been confronted by a sharp uptick in homelessness. A large percentage of the homeless population are youth. How can the county better support these vulnerable youth and get them off the streets?

If we adequately address the issues raised in the other questions, we will have addressed the biggest challenges related to this question. Talking with a skid-row expert, he said that half our foster youth are on the streets within two years of being released from the system. This underscores a systemic breakdown in our care of foster youth. It speaks to poor self-esteem from being bounced around a broken system with not enough quality foster parents, not being trained for the workforce, which speaks to the failures of our educational system. Many have substance abuse issues, which speaks to the lack of intervention and behavioral treatment at an early age. This is exacerbated by our state (and county’s) policies that drive up costs of housing, drive away many businesses that create good-paying jobs. The recent increase in the minimum wage is an excellent example of raising a higher obstacle for kids trying to get their first job to gain experience and build a resume.

There are various community-based programs and organizations that do great work in seeking to support homeless families and children and we should do all we can to work with and help grow these NGO efforts.

Los Angeles County has the largest juvenile justice system in the country. According to a recent review of the Probation Department’s budget and practices, the yearly cost to the county for a youth at one of its juvenile halls was roughly $234,000. For a youth living in one of the county’s camps, a stay there comes to a little more than $200,000 a year. What would you do to lower costs and improve outcomes for the county’s embattled juvenile justice system?

Some progress has been made relative to the over-all administration of the county’s Probation Department as indicated by the conclusion of the federal monitoring of the county’s juvenile camps. Unfortunately, while the population of youths detained under the county’s probation department has dropped from 17,000 in 2011 to just 9,000 last year, the costs have increased dramatically. Much of the increase in cost has been attributed to the cost drivers associated with complying with federally mandated higher staff-to-youth ratios at the halls and camps. According to the department, the mental health, health and educational services required under the agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice are more intensive and costlier than those for other California counties.

However, as the recent review by the L.A. County Auditor-Controller’s office found, there is clearly more to be done to ensure that the department remains in compliance with federal requirements and to ensure that operations of the camps provide for the safe rehabilitation and education of youth offenders. The audit found, among other issues, that probation camp staff was not ensuring that youth offenders participated in required substance-abuse treatment programs and therapy for anger management and behavior issues.

There have been allegations of wasteful spending and mismanagement. As supervisor, I would be interested in an independent audit looking at the questions of waste and mismanagement, but also as to whether cost containments and efficiencies can also be identified. Also a comparative analysis could be undertaken of other counties with programs that achieve effective outcomes with a lower cost basis. I believe that improved outcomes can be achieved through ensuring that staff is fully trained and oversight is in place to ensure that youth offenders are able to participate in required substance-abuse treatment, mental health counseling and other education services proven to reduce recidivism.

Elan Carr is a Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney—a criminal gang prosecutor—who spent a year prosecuting kids in juvenile court.

Los Angeles County has been confronted by a sharp uptick in homelessness. A large percentage of the homeless population are youth. How can the county better support these vulnerable youth and get them off the streets?

While youth homelessness is a very troubling problem, homelessness in Los Angeles County is not new. We have the largest homeless population in the country – more than 44,000 – and we need leadership. As a criminal prosecutor, I personally experience the results of homelessness on both the homeless population and on the community. That’s why I volunteered to be a part of the new Community Collaborative Court program, where I worked together with judges, probation officers, and county Department of Mental Health personnel to find treatment programs, as an alternative to incarceration, for homeless defendants who are mentally ill or abusing drugs. The problem of homelessness requires both short-term and long-term solutions.

While the county had well-founded reasons for closing the Youth Welcome Centers – including a lawsuit by the state – the closure merely exacerbated the problem and created even more homeless children. We need a safe and expeditious process to remove, hold and transfer children to their new placements. I will ensure that we devote enough revenue every year to housing as well as to programs. And I will expedite development of affordable rental residences so that we can bring the cost of housing down. I look forward to working with the governor, county department heads, the sheriff, district attorney, leaders in the community and adoption agencies to create a robust plan to fix the homeless issue in our county.

Los Angeles County has the largest juvenile justice system in the country. According to a recent review of the Probation Department’s budget and practices, the yearly cost to the county for a youth at one of its juvenile halls was roughly $234,000. For a youth living in one of the county’s camps, a stay there comes to a little more than $200,000 a year. What would you do to lower costs and improve outcomes for the county’s embattled juvenile justice system?

I spent a full year prosecuting minors in juvenile court, and I myself have sent kids to juvenile hall, camp, and on occasion to the Department of Juvenile Justice (formerly CYA). Now, as a criminal gang prosecutor, I prosecute very young adults and regularly secure sentences longer than the than the years they have been alive. It is agonizing to me to see so many of our kids deprived of a nurturing and empowering education and the chance at a good job after high school. Public safety is the main focus of my campaign, and it is vital to remember that we can’t handcuff our way out of the current crime problem.

LA City Councilmember Mitchell Englander, has served the 12th District communities of Granada Hills, Northridge, Porter Ranch, Chatsworth, North Hills, Reseda, Sherwood Forest, and West Hills, since 2011.

Last year, Los Angeles County created the Office of Child Protection to ensure that child safety is embedded in all the county’s agencies and departments. What sort of child maltreatment prevention approaches and strategies should the county adopt and encourage to protect children?

The county’s child protective services agency has been plagued with issues for many years and continues to struggle to fulfill it’s mission. Over the last few years, there have been a number of positive steps towards addressing the issues at the agency, namely creation of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection and the subsequent creation of the Office of Child Protection (OCP). The work of the commission, as well as the creation of OCP, have helped identify and address critical issues such as mismanagement, case load issues and overall delivery of services. However, in my view, there is a great deal of work to be done. As we work to implement many of the recommendations made by the commission, I strongly believe that regular reassessment and accountability measures are paramount to ensuring that the office is making real progress. I would like to implement an A-P3 – Assess, Provide, Promote, Protect – approach to implementing meaningful changes to address it’s short comings.

Assess: The Blue Ribbon Commission has made great strides in identifying the shortcomings of the child protective services agency. We need to prioritize on-going assessments of the agency as well as measuring the impact that new policies and initiatives have towards reaching identified goals.

Provide: Caseloads have been an issue. While it’s good to hire a thousand new social workers, as the county has done, doing that without giving them the technology and other support resources they need to manage large caseloads is useless. Many have quit, and caseload numbers have increased. While the most tragic stories have been in the front pages, everyday kids are abused, neglected or allowed to be preyed upon. We need to make a commitment to providing modern technologies and tracking mechanisms in order to track work, enhance coordination and improve the exchange of information between relevant agencies. Implementation of the Electronic Suspected Child Abuse Reporting System (E-SCARS) is one example of how technology can improve the agency.

Promote: A “see something, say something” approach to child maltreatment needs to be promoted countywide, to all residents, not just care providers and teachers. This is particularly true within the agency. I believe that the Office of Child Protection can play a central role in reshaping the culture within relevant county agencies.

Protect: There needs to be the same ability to anonymously report suspected abuse as there is for other crimes and even a similar reward-type incentive for information leading to convictions. We also need to place a greater emphasis on utilizing background checks as well as regular in-depth welfare checks to ensure that children are placed in safe and healthy environments.

Kathryn Barger, chief of staff to current Supervisor Michael Antonovich, has spent more than 25 years working for the supervisor.

Los Angeles County has the largest juvenile justice system in the country. According to a recent review of the Probation Department’s budget and practices, the yearly cost to the county for a youth at one of its juvenile halls was roughly $234,000. For a youth living in one of the county’s camps, a stay there comes to a little more than $200,000 a year. What would you do to lower costs and improve outcomes for the county’s embattled juvenile justice system?

I will review the completed fiscal analysis that is underway by the CEO now, which will help us better understand the cost per youth in our institutions. Based on the data, I would propose a four-pronged approach:

Ensure that the only the youth who should be confined in our institutions are those in our institutions (i.e., high risk and not for minor infractions, such as curfew violations).

Expand and enhance community-based programs for the youth who can be safely and effectively treated and supervised in the community. We have recently expanded our partnerships with community-based organizations like UCAN, Boys and Girls Clubs in San Gabriel and Santa Clarita Valleys, Asian Youth Center, and Mentoring and Partnership Program in Pasadena. I will also work with the Probation Department to establish a juvenile day reporting center in the Fifth District, which is in preliminary stages.

We need to do a better job of preventing the crossover of our foster youth into the juvenile-justice system. We know that there is a substantial link between children who are abused and neglected and subsequently enter the juvenile-justice system. We must continue to improve service coordination and integration between the Departments of Children and Family Services, Probation, Mental Health and Public Health to provide needed services to foster youth. And we need to effectively and efficiently link youth with substance abuse services which are available through Medi-Cal.

Given that the population of youth in our camps and halls has decreased by more than 60 percent in the last seven years and the on-going challenges in filling staffing vacancies, I will ensure that the human resources are deployed where there is the greatest need.

Darrell Park is an entrepreneur focusing on start-ups and clean energy, who has worked at the federal White House Office of Management and Budget.

Last year, Los Angeles County created the Office of Child Protection to ensure that child safety is embedded in all the county’s agencies and departments. What sort of child maltreatment prevention approaches and strategies should the county adopt and encourage to protect children?

Every child must be treated as our most valuable resource. That must be our goal. As a child, my parents hosted 19 foster children over the years. Some stayed for a weekend, others stayed for years. Los Angeles County’s system is not workable, as it currently functions. But there are simple solutions to fix what is wrong with this system, and make L.A. County the model for the rest of the country.

For instance, we need many more caseworkers, but we can also increase the effectiveness of every case worker by 30 percent immediately. We have underutilized the use of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s motor pool. We can get workers to their meetings as fast as lights and sirens can allow, and that can be changed instantly. We also need to use our county support staff that can take dictation from case workers as they drive between appointments, so workers don’t have to waste time sitting at a desk.

Other successful programs across the country also involve outreach efforts to secure many volunteers to provide support for families, facilities and kids, so that every child is supported and surrounded by love. Studies have shown that for a teen to become a successful adult, they need at least seven positive relationships with other adults as they grow up. Unfortunately, that resource of human capital is deeply lacking for foster youth.

(Note: CSC is also holding an LA County Board of Supervisors Fifth District Forum on Children’s issues, which you can RSVP for: here.)


SNEAKY JAILHOUSE SNITCH INFORMATION BLOG USED BY ORANGE COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEPUTIES FOUND

In the newest twist in the ongoing Orange County jailhouse snitch scandal, OC Sheriff’s Department members kept a secret blog on jail informants that was kept away from defense lawyers. Information about the “unauthorized” blog, which was hidden on the county jail’s computer system, surfaced during testimony in the murder trial of Daniel Patrick Wozniak. (Here’s the backstory on the OCDA and the OC Sheriff’s Department’s misuse of jailhouse informants to extract confessions, as well as the withholding of evidence from defendants.)

One of the deputies involved in the blog, was accused of giving false testimony during the murder trial of Scott Evans Dekraai, which was one of the reasons the OC DA’s Office was banned from prosecuting the death penalty portion of Dekraai’s trial. A different informant information system was found during the Dekraai trial that helped deputies hide possibly helpful evidence away from defendants.

Voice of OC’s Rex Dalton has the story. Here’s a clip:

These details were revealed during a remarkable all-day hearing Tuesday before Judge John D. Conley, with testimony by sheriff’s officials, including Commander Adam Powell, who oversees all of Sheriff Sandra Hutchens’ investigative services.

This is now the second time Sanders has uncovered a computer system through which sheriff’s deputies kept secret potentially helpful evidence from murder defendants. The Dekraai case revealed a system maintained by deputies with so-called TRED records on informants and inmates in county jails.

It was not disclosed until late 2014 when prosecutors responded to an 11th hour subpoena by Sanders. The TRED records were instrumental in Goethals’ decision that some deputies provided false testimony in the Dekraai case.

Ultimately last year, Goethals ruled the state Attorney General’s Office should prosecute the penalty phase of Dekraai’s trial. The judge’s order is under appeal, with Rackauckas’ plan to seek the death penalty on hold.

Then in February, Goethals overturned the 2006 murder conviction of Henry Rodriguez of Anaheim for a 1998 double murder, citing constitutional rights violations involving informant evidence again “washing ashore.”

During the Rodriguez proceedings for a retrial, a sheriff’s deputy from the special handling unit that works with jail informants produced the heretofore unknown cache of computer notes — which started multi-pronged hunts for more similar records.

Last month, Sanders subpoenaed any similar notes from the sheriff’s department for his defense of Wozniak — who in December was convicted by a jury who recommended the death penalty.

Wozniak faces sentencing on May 20. But a sentencing on that date looks increasingly unlikely given the ongoing hearing that continues Thursday.

Unless he can win a dismissal of the death penalty, Sanders has said in court that he will seek a new penalty phase trial for Wozniak, with the evolving mishandling of evidentiary notes likely to play a significant role. Sanders was scheduled to file a major motion in the case May 6, but that too is likely to be delayed.


CALIFORNIA SUPREMES DON’T SEEM LIKELY TO UPHOLD BLOCK ON GOV. BROWN’S CRIMINAL JUSTICE INITIATIVE

On Thursday, the California Supreme Court heard oral arguments regarding the legality of a last-minute amendment to Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed ballot initiative that would remove the power to transfer kids to adult court from prosecutors, and give the control back to judges, as well as increase inmates’ access to early release credits.

Earlier this year, Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Shelleyanne Chang blocked California Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed ballot initiative, siding with California District Attorney’s Association members, whose lawsuit alleged that amendments to the initiative did not go through the proper legal process. The state Supremes put a hold on Chang’s ruling, allowing Brown to continue collecting signatures to qualify for the November ballot in the meantime. (Read the backstory: here.)

During Thursday’s hearing, the justices reportedly seemed skeptical of the attempt by the DA’s union to block Brown’s measure, saying that the law gives a considerable amount of leeway for making changes to a measure before it goes out for signature-collecting.

The high court is expected to rule on the issue within 90 days.

The Sacramento Bee’s David Siders has more on the hearing. Here’s a clip:

While a Sacramento Superior Court judge ruled the measure substantially changed the content of the original initiative, several justices on Thursday suggested state law grants the proponents of a measure broad authority to make changes before circulating it for signatures.

“It seems pretty clear to me that the Legislature wanted to give a great deal of latitude to the proponents of any initiative,” Justice Carol A. Corrigan said.

At issue before the court is a sweeping effort by Brown to reduce prison crowding and to ease the effect of fixed-term sentencing standards that Brown signed into law – and later regretted – when he was governor before. Filing his initiative as an amendment to an existing proposal allowed him to move more quickly through the state’s initiative review process.

A ruling by the Supreme Court is due within 90 days.

In an hour-long oral argument, justices pressed the Brown administration on how dramatically it changed the original proposal. Brown’s opponents, including the California District Attorneys Association and Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, had argued Brown’s measure should have gone through its own review process, including public comment.


EDITORIAL: HOMELESSNESS STILL ON THE RISE IN LOS ANGELES, AND THERE’S NO QUICK FIX

Homelessness is still on the rise in Los Angeles County, according to the latest homeless count—up 5.7% over the previous year, which is less than half of the 12% increase experienced in 2014, but still disappointing.

LA County and LA City have a collaborated on comprehensive plan to help and house thousands of homeless residents through interagency coordination, non-profits, philanthropy groups, and businesses. But the housing (and required dollars) won’t appear overnight. Much of the funding has not yet been gathered, and there’s not much in the way of affordable housing real estate options, the LA Times editorial board points out. And the focus should be on addressing the issues that lead people to become—and stay—homeless. Here’s a clip:

City and county officials need to maintain the will and the commitment to fight this devastating social problem, even though they can be sure there will be political pitfalls ahead. They will have to work hard to explain the situation to voters and to persuade them that the best, most effective solutions have been identified. It is possible to make headway against homelessness; indeed, the best news in yesterday’s report was that veteran homelessness was significantly down — 30% — from 2015. That’s a testament to the increase in financial resources and personnel focused on veterans by the federal, county, and city governments over the last few years.

On Wednesday, Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl introduced a motion directing the county’s Executive Officer to pursue a change in state law to grant counties the authority to seek voter approval of a tax on personal income above $1 million a year to combat homelessness.

Creating more housing must be a high priority in an area with such an extremely low vacancy rate and stratospherically high rents. That’s the most costly part of solving homelessness.

Of course, the city and county are already housing thousands of people each year. The problem is that as more are housed, more become homeless. So part of the challenge is to prevent homelessness in the first place, which in turn requires an understanding of who these people are and how they lost their homes in the first place. Were they evicted? Do they suffer from mental illness or drug addiction? Are they newly homeless or have they been on the streets for years? Are they in treatment? What do they need to rebuild their lives?



This post has been updated to include The Chronicle of Social Change’s interview with Mitch Englander.

Posted in LA County Board of Supervisors | No Comments »

Fifty-Eight More Commutations from Obama

May 6th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

PRESIDENT OBAMA COMMUTED 58 SENTENCES, BRINGING HIS TOTAL TO 306 COMMUTATIONS, THUS FAR

On Thursday, President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of 58 federal prisoners serving time behind bars under outdated drug sentencing laws—including two people from Los Angeles and one from Richmond, CA.

The president has now commuted (or shortened) sentences for 306 people, more than the six previous presidents combined. But Obama still has not done much in the way of presidential pardons (which wipe a person’s criminal record and restores their rights) when compared with his predecessors. Obama has granted just 70 presidential pardons during his more than seven years in office. George W. Bush granted 189 pardons, Bill Clinton granted 396, Ronald Reagan granted 393, Jimmy Carter granted 534 (during just 4 years in the White House), Lyndon B. Johnson granted 960, and Harry Truman granted 1,913.

Obama wrote about his latest batch of commutations in a story for Medium, pointing to individual success stories from those granted clemency, and praising bipartisan efforts to rein in over-the-top mandatory minimum sentences. Obama said that while he will keep reviewing clemency petitions, “only Congress can bring about the lasting changes we need to federal sentencing.”

Posted in Obama | 3 Comments »

Tom Angel Timeline, Asset Forfeiture, Deputies Shooting into Cars, and a Story of Reconciliation

May 5th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

LA DAILY NEWS ASKS WHY IT TOOK FOUR DAYS FOR LASD TO BOOT TOM ANGEL

Last week, news broke via the LA Times about racist, sexist, and anti-Muslim emails that Tom Angel, the chief of staff for LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell, forwarded between 2012 and 2013 while he worked for the Burbank Police Department. At first, Sheriff McDonnell said he did not plan to discipline Angel because the incidents did not occur within the sheriff’s department. The news dismayed department members and advocates alike, who felt that not holding a higher-up like Angel responsible for his actions sent a questionable message to rank-and-file as well as the public.

Four days later, Angel tendered his resignation.

The LA Daily News editorial board wants to know: what took so long for McDonnell to dump Angel?

Police and sheriff’s departments must apply the law without discrimination. Being found to have passed along a joke like that raises serious doubt about at least one cop’s ability to do this.

We mean serious. This isn’t about political incorrectness, but about how the appearance of racism can jeopardize convictions, potentially helping criminals to go free and wasting public money.

The idea that a high-ranked official thinks the high incarceration rates of African Americans and Latinos is a topic for jest is especially harmful to an agency that runs the county jails. An agency trying to recover from, among other scandals, the finding that deputies engaged in racial profiling in the Antelope Valley.

[SNIP]

Now who’s disappointed? Only everybody who has seen McDonnell as an effective antidote to the corruption that grew under former Sheriff Lee Baca.

The good news is that McDonnell finally did recognize that Angel had to go, and the sheriff used the occasion of Angel’s resignation to announce that he would “turn this situation into a learning opportunity for all LASD personnel,” emphasize “ethnic sensitivity and professionalism,” and hold meetings with county groups to discuss tolerance.

The bad news is that McDonnell didn’t seem to recognize the severity of the problem until pressure from Muslim and minority leaders built up.


US REP. DARRELL ISSA CALLS ON CONGRESS TO COMBAT UNFAIR ASSET FORFEITURE PRACTICES

In California, police cannot keep assets under $25,000 unless the owner is convicted, and for amounts above $25,000, officers have to be able to give “clear and convincing evidence” beyond a reasonable doubt, that the cash or property was connected to a crime.

But California (and other states) circumvent their own forfeiture laws through the controversial federal Equitable Sharing Program, which authorizes local law enforcement agencies to bring feds into an investigation, and thus be able to skirt state restrictions against using seized money as revenue, with only “probable cause” that laws have been broken, not actual convictions. The federal program was suspended in December due to budget cuts, but was brought back to life last month.

In an op-ed for the LA Times, US Rep. Darrell Issa (R-California) urges Congress to take action against the Equitable Sharing Program, and calls for a higher burden of proof to be required before property can be seized, to thwart “treasure hunting” police who are “beefing up their budgets on the backs of innocent Americans.” Here’s a clip:

Civil asset forfeiture allows police to seize property as long as they believe that the assets in question were somehow connected to criminal activity.

“As long as they believe” — that’s the key part.

Authorities don’t have to actually prove the person was guilty of a crime. They don’t have to even file charges. The presumption of innocence is thrown to the wayside.

It’s an egregious violation of the 4th Amendment, but that’s not even the most glaring problem with the system.

Under current law, most states allow police departments to absorb up to 100% of the value of the confiscated property — whether it’s cash, cars, houses or guns — and use the proceeds to pad their budgets. It’s an obvious conflict of interest — and boy, is it profitable for law enforcement agencies.

In 2014, the latest year for which data is available, police officers took more property from American citizens under civil asset forfeiture ($5 billion) than criminals took in burglaries ($3.5 billion), according to research from the Institute for Justice.

Granted, there’s a lot of nuance to these statistics. The numbers don’t include state seizures — just federal seizures — and they exclude other types of theft, such as larceny. But the central point here remains: Civil asset forfeiture is dangerously profitable, prompting civic leaders, lawmakers and state legislatures to consider significant reform.

In 1994, California attempted to rein in civil asset forfeiture abuse, passing a bill that requires a criminal conviction before police can seize assets worth up to $25,000, and that caps the amount of money authorities can keep at no more than 65% of the total.

But unless Congress takes action, state efforts to stop civil forfeiture abuse mean very little.


LASD DEPUTIES SHOOT AT SUSPECTS IN MOVING CARS FAR MORE OFTEN THAN LAPD, DESPITE POLICY RESTRICTIONS

Back in 2005, both the Los Angeles Police Department and the LA County Sheriff’s Department made policies against shooting at moving vehicles.

But while the LAPD shot into vehicles only twice between 2010 and 2014, members of the LASD shot into moving cars at least nine times during that time, according to an investigation by KPCC’s Annie Gilbertson with Aaron Mendelson.

The deputies involved justified the shootings by saying that they feared they would be hit by the cars. In only one of the nine instances of LASD deputies shooting into cars was the suspect armed. “We are probably shooting at moving vehicles too much,” Assistant Sheriff Todd Rogers told KPCC.

WLA reported on one such shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old in Studio City by a deputy and a DEA agent in plainclothes. (Read the two-part story of the death of Zac Champommier: here and here.)

Here’s a clip from the KPCC story:

KPCC based its investigation on Los Angeles District Attorney narratives, civil litigation records, deputy discipline archives, press releases, interviews with individuals shot by officers and their family members as well as law enforcement officials and policy experts. Among the shootings since 2010:

- Deputy Benjamin Alvarado shot and wounded Darren Thompson after he fled a traffic stop in 2010. Deputies suspected him in a nearby burglary.

- Detective Rudolpho Santana fired at Anthony Michael Axe in 2012 after he fled a questioning about an assault with a firearm and backed his RV into a patrol car, which was positioned to block him in. Axe died.

- Deputy Cuauhtemoc Gonzalez shot and wounded Gonzalo Martinez in 2013. He was with a friend allegedly spray painting when the deputy arrived. The driver of the car said he was trying to get away when a deputy opened fire.

“I feel the department itself was using that excuse—that I was trying to run him over—when all I was doing was trying to leave,” said Michael Lobrono, a 38-year-old construction worker and delivery driver.

Lobrono was shot by Deputy Ray Huang in 2013. Huang had detained Lobrono’s girlfriend, Lisa Puente, in Walnut on suspicion of burglary and Lobrono pulled up to the scene in his truck.

“I got upset, and I flipped him off,” Lobrono said. Then he tried to speed off and the deputy opened fire. Deputy Huang said he was standing in the street near his patrol car when the truck came towards him, according to D.A. records.

Lobrono said he tried to duck, but a bullet penetrated the back of his arm and continued to tear through his flesh until it came to rest in his chest, where it remains today.

Huang did not respond to KPCC’s requests for comment, but told district attorney investigators he thought Lobrono was going to hit him with his truck.

Lobrono was still recovering when prosecutors charged him with “threat with a deadly weapon.” The “weapon” was his truck. A jury acquitted Loborno of criminal charges and he sued, alleging excessive force. He settled for $335,000 though county officials maintained the shooting was within policy.

“No systemic issues were identified,” wrote Scott Johnson, then captain of the Risk Management Bureau, to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors of the settlement in 2014. “Consequently no further personnel-related administrative action was taken, and no other corrective action measures are recommended nor contemplated.”

Sean Van Leeuwen, vice president of the deputies’ union, declined to comment on specific cases but said there are steps the Sheriff’s department can take to prevent shooting: “Training. Training. Training.”

“When was the last time you trained us on how to shoot at a moving vehicle or how to avoid shooting at a moving vehicle?” asked Van Leeuwen, who is also a field training officer. “The answer will probably be never.”


SF JAIL PROGRAM BRINGS VICTIMS AND OFFENDERS TOGETHER FOR HEALING THROUGH SHARING STORIES

As part of the Resolve To Stop Violence Program (RSVP), inmates at the San Francisco County Jail in San Bruno meet with victims of crime. Through these painful stories, the victims connect with the inmates—many of whom were often victims themselves before they became offenders.

In one such example, a father and son shared their story of trauma, abuse, crime, and ultimately, healing. Joe Loya Jr. was convicted of robbing multiple banks in the ’80s, and spent seven years in federal prison (including two years in solitary) but his story begins much earlier than that. When Joe Loya Jr. was nine years old, his mother died. Unable to process his grief, Joe Loya Sr., once a loving father, started beating his sons. After one particularly bad beating, Joe Loya Jr. stabbed his father in the neck

KQED’s Sandhya Dirks has the story. Here’s a clip:

After the beating, Joe Loya Sr. left the house. Joe Jr. remembers locking his brother in a bathroom and going to the kitchen and grabbing a steak knife. He describes going to his bedroom, hiding the knife underneath his pillow and then waiting for his father to come home. It was as if he took the lessons of violence he learned and put them to work.

“He comes to the bedroom door and it’s round two, I think. And I stand up and I pull out the knife. He tells me to put the knife down. One thing leads to another, we wrestle in the middle of the room, and I end up getting the better of him,” Joe Jr. says. He had stabbed his father in the neck.

He remembers twisting the blade, trying to break it off. He remembers his father falling on the ground, yelling out, “You killed me, you killed me!”

“So up until now, I’ve been a victim. And now like, whoa, that felt interesting. Everything comes out. And as soon as it hit, I felt power. And I liked that feeling,” Joe Jr. says.

Joe Jr. was not charged with anything, and after the stabbing he and his brother were sent to foster care for a little bit. He ended up back in his father’s house, but not for long. Soon he was out on his own, and he turned to crime, making victims as a way to never be one again.

The jail room is quiet. Some men stare at their feet, others watch Joe Jr. intensely. And then he does something I don’t think the men were expecting.

He invites his father to speak. “This is Joe Loya Sr.,” he tells them. “I love him very much — show him respect.”

Where Joe Jr., is big and brash, Joe Sr. is shorter, a slender man with an elegant figure. It doesn’t seem possible that this is the same man who was as violent as Joe Jr. described.

But Joe Sr. admits to what he did, everything. It wasn’t easy, and it didn’t happen overnight, but it was his idea to accompany his son on jail visits like this.

“I did beat him up, and I did punch him,” Joe Sr. says. “I never should have, that was way over the line. I was angry, I don’t want to go into details why, because it’s just an excuse, it’s just another excuse why I was angry. I hit him, and I remember very clearly that when he stabbed me, I was in shock.”

Joe Sr. touches the wound that his son left in the back of his neck. He says that every now and then he touches it, feels the scar, and it all comes flooding back — the fight, that night, all of it.

“When it happened I was completely in shock. But when he turned the knife, I said, ‘What an asshole.’ That’s how I felt. He didn’t have to turn the knife — he already had it in there.”

Joe Sr. says what he remembered then was a “moment of enormous clarity.”

He remembered when he was a young parent, not much older than 16, coming home from work, and little Joe Jr. was banging on his high chair, so thrilled to see his father.

“I said, ‘We’ve gone from that to this. Who’s responsible?’ ” Joe Sr. pounds his chest for emphasis. “I was.”

“I had a beautiful little guy that loved me, that when he saw me would run to me — Daddy, Daddy — and now he’s put a knife in my neck. There is no book that’s given to a child, ‘Here’s how you can dust your dad.’ Nobody gets that book. We make that book in the heart of a child.”

Now they are working to rewrite the ending as a love story. Joe Jr. says this rewriting is possible in part because he recognized that his father’s pain was so similar to his own, that they were both shaped by the loss of his mother. It’s possible in part because Joe had a daughter, and they made a decision — that it ends here.

But they had to start sharing their stories in words — rather than blows — in order to make that shift.

Posted in LASD | 36 Comments »

LA County Supervisors Ban Solitary for Kids (And, Yes, This is a Big Deal)

May 4th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors passed a motion that bans
the use of solitary confinement—in all but the most exceptional circumstances—in any and all of the county’s juvenile detention facilities. The change is ordered to be accomplished by the end of September of this year.

Los Angeles County oversees the largest juvenile justice system in the nation. Thus this decision could, with any luck, have a contagious effect on other counties and their juvenile justice systems, in California and beyond. At least that’s what everyone seems to hope.

Last year, a bill that attempted to do on a statewide basis what Tuesday’s motion will accomplish, was killed in committee after seeming headed toward passage. A revamped version has been reintroduced by Senator Mark Leno again this year. Several people in the public comment period mentioned that perhaps LA County’s action will inspire the state legislature to finally get with the program.

Two camps—Camp Scott and Camp Challenger, along with Central Juvenile hall—will do away with solitary by the end of May. Then those three facilities will serve as models for the rest of system, which must institute the same reforms by September 30 of this year, said interim Probation Chief Cal Remington.

The LA County Probation Department currently operates three juvenile halls and thirteen juvenile camps, that house approximately 1200 youth.

The motion, co-authored by Board Chair Supervisor Hilda L. Solis and Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, instructs the CEO and the L.A. County Probation Department to create “new procedures, enforcement mechanisms, and reporting structures” to provide the right context for the ban.

Kuehl explained the importance of the motion by pointing to what we now know, based on research, about the practice of juvenile solitary. “It doesn’t improve behavior,” she said. “it doesn’t secure public safety. It doesn’t promote rehabilitation. And, indeed, those who have experienced solitary confinement recidivate in higher numbers. And the Office of Juvenile Justice Prevention found that 50 percent of our young people who commit suicide were in room confinement at the time of their suicide. 60 percent of them had a history of punitive solitary confinement.”

The motion, she said, not only “ratifies’ the direction that probation was going,” she said. “…It says, ‘and we really mean it.’”

“This is a very important moment for us,” said Supervisor Hilda Solis.”We can’t treat these youngsters in this manner and think that, when they get out, they’re going to be oaky.

Remington spoke after Kuehl and Solis, and attempted to answer questions posed by some of the other Supes. In general, however, Remington said he and the department are “committed to ending solitary confinement and reducing our usage of restrictive housing situations where other interventions have been exhausted.” He did caution that kids “may be separated as a short-term response when their behavior poses a serious risk to themselves and others.”

Remington also described how the environments in which a young person might be placed for such a cool down, would be very different than the previous, cell-like environments that had previously been used. “We want the situation to be a calming experience,” he said and mentioned changes in furniture, lighting, window treatment, and wall colors as part of the necessary psychological change necessary. “We want a place where the minor and the staff member can sit down and talk” comfortably. “It’s important to change the environment. We talking about cultural change.” Remington added that the kids out at the Challenger camp want to renamed the repurposed SHU. “They want to call it HOPE Center,” he said.

Remington also said that staff training will be very important to the new plan. “The staff have to feel safe” he said. “I just wanted to mention there are challenges with this,” Remington added. “But they’re challenges we’re willing to take on. We’ll get there.”



NO LONGER “STUCK ON STUPID”

Although there was no mystery about whether the motion would pass, only whether it would be unanimous, the decision had a surprisingly emotional effect on many of the juvenile advocates who spoke in favor of the historic decision.

Kirn Kim, who has a teenager spent 15 months, in solitary confinement, from the age of 16 to 18, was a member of a panel of experts who spoke about the motion during the hearing, and was one of those who spoke with particular passion.

“Study after study has shown that solitary confinement can have devastating mental-health effects on adults,” said Kim. “So I ask, how can its use ever be justified for juveniles? The teenage brain is still developing. Youth have a lesser capacity to cope with stress than adults. To force that level of stress on a young person, especially those who have already been traumatized, only leads to further problems which we, as a society, will ultimately have to deal with,” he said. “As any parent can attest, children act out. These kids have been traumatized, they are put in solitary confinement, and they act out further.”

Attorney Jo Kaplan, who is a member of the Probation Commission and a longtime child advocate, made clear that getting rid of juvenile solitary was overdue. “For close to two decades we’ve had the Department of Justice monitoring probation,” Kaplan said. “This solitary confinement motion is symbolic of [a department] that, in the past, “was stuck on stupid. This motion …is the right thing to do. And it needs to be unanimous,” she said. “This county should be a leader. We should no longer be behind the curve. Don’t let this opportunity go away. Start by doing the right thing now.”

Probation Commissioner Sal Martinez, who with Kaplin and Kim was part of a panel of invited speakers, talked about when he’d been in juvenile hall and camp during his past as gang members as an adolescent, and about what kids tell him when he makes site visits to the camps and halls now, as a commissioner.

Several other young people in the audience, who had signed up to address the board, talked about their own experiences in solitary. “It was horrible,” said Francisco Martinez, who was from the Youth Justice Coalition. “An animal in a cage.”

When the vote was finally called, it was indeed unanimous.

Martinez and I spoke later in the day, and I asked him whether the passage of the motion banning juvenile solitary felt like a turning point, he answered right away.

“Yes, definitely,” he said. It’s a big deal. It’s a very big deal.”


$1.5 MILLION CONTRACT FOR HOMEBOY INDUSTRIES GIVEN GO-AHEAD

On Tuesday, the board of supervisors passed a motion triggering the writing of a one-year $1.5 million contract with Homeboy Industries, which will essentially pay the organization to do the work it does anyway, helping hundreds of former gang members and formerly incarcerated men and women per year reboot their lives.

The motion passed with four yes votes. (Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas abstained.)

The contract is designate as a pilot program that it is hoped will lead to more such contracts with other programs that, like Homeboy, have been demonstrably effective working with clients in a variety of ways over time, rather than simply providing a set of quantifiable services.

(You can find additional details about the motion in this story.)

Once written, the contract will have to be again approved by the board.



The solitary photos are, from top to bottom, a shot of solitary at Las Padrinos Juvenile Hall, by Sal Martinez; of an individual solitary room at Camp Kilpatrick before it was torn down by WLA; and an additional solitary hallway with multiple solitary rooms, in one of LA County’s juvenile facilities, Sal martinez.

The fourth photo of Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting was taken by David Tepper.

Homeboy photo, WLA.

Posted in solitary | 4 Comments »

LA County Board of Supes to Consider Funding Homeboy Industries to Do the Job It’s Been Doing for Free for the County for Years – UPDATED

May 3rd, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


UPDATE: On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors
passed the motion described below, with four of the board members voting yes. Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas abstained.


On Tuesday the board of supervisors will vote on an unusual motion, which proposes offer a yearlong, $1.5 million contract to Homeboy Industries to do the work that they’ve been doing anyway for the county, which is helping formerly gang-involved and previously incarcerated men and women in LA County by giving them the tools and support to allow them to redirect their lives and become contributing members of our community—instead of cycling in and out of jail or prison or both.

(If you’re unfamiliar with the details of what Homeboy does, you can find it here.)

The motion is co sponsored by Supervisor Don Knabe, and Supervisor Hilda Solis. You can find the text here, but it amounts to this:

LA County Probation is sitting on an absurd pile of unused state money that is mandated to be used on programs that do exactly what Homeboy provides.

Here’s the deal.

As we’ve reported in the past, LA County receives a yearly bunch of cash from California’s SB 678 fund, which is a performance-based program that shares with California’s counties some of the money saved by the state through AB 109 prison realignment. The counties are, in turn, supposed to spend their SB 678 dollars on “evidence-based” programs to help adult probationers restart their lives and to avoid future visits to jail or prison, thus saving the state and county additional money.

LA County probation began receiving SB 678 funds in FY 2011-2012. But, while they took the money, they did almost nothing at all with it. Thus by May 2015, a county audit discovered that department had amassed an astonishing $140.5 million in SB 678 funds—which former probation chief, Jerry Powers and company reportedly failed to mention to the board of supervisors or anyone else. Meanwhile, instead of spending the funds on much-needed programs, either of probation’s own creation or on existing community-based programs, they simply sat on the cash, which—according to our sources—has now grown to $145 million or more.

Now, as AB 109/prison realignment moves into its 5th year of operation, and Prop. 47 moves is one and 1/3 years old, it’s in everyone’s best interest that the county takes some of those SB 678 bucks that its been stuffing under the mattress, and use it on evidence-based programs aimed at the people for which it was intended—programs like Homeboy Industries provides to hundreds of men and women every year.

(By the way, did I mention that the $140 plus million has been languishing all this time in a non-interest bearing account? Who in the world was overseeing these decisions? Oh, yeah, right. Never mind.)

Which brings us back to the motion pertaining to Homeboy.

According to Nick Ippolito, Assistant Chief of Staff for Supervisor Knabe, the motion accomplishes a couple of things. First of all it would allow the county to start funding a program, and then over time, multiple programs, that work with the population that the county is most interested in working with—namely former and current offenders released from jail or prison who, if they can be prevented from recidivating, while save the county and the state a bunch of money, and will contribute greatly to the cause of public safety..

With this in mind, “we’ve been trying to form a strategic relationship with Homeboy for some time,” Ippolito said. “I don’t know of any other organization that works with their documented level of success with individuals who have been hardcore gang members.” But, he said, “Homeboy industries clients aren’t sent to them by a judge or a probation officer, they come in on their own, when they’re ready.”

There are plenty of organizations “who work well with non-violent AB 109-ers,” Ippolito continued, “but not with this population. And we want to figure out the best service model to help this population. But we want to do that without trying to turn Homeboy into a fee-for-service agency,” which are the kind of programs that probation generally contracts with, Ippolito said. “But that’s not how Homeboy turns lives around.”

Yet, despite the fact that Homeboy has been helping the men and women that the county most wants to reach, the county has rarely given the organization even the smallest about of funding.

“Homeboy has done their work almost exclusively through private donations, and through their enterprises like their bakery” said Ippolito, not government money. “So how do we support them without screwing up their model?”

Enter Tuesday’s motion—which, if it passes, would allow the board to take a small portion of that hoarded 678 money and enter into an agreement with Homeboy for 12 months, a contract that would establish a pilot that will allow the county, according to Ippolito, to figure out how to work with Homeboy and other “innovative organizations whose work the county should be funding,” but whose model doesn’t fit into the county’s neat little funding boxes.

Or, as the motion says, Homeboy offers “a service template that doesn’t fit neatly into the traditional, referral-based models the County is accustomed to administering.”

According to both Ippolito and Supervisor Knabe, the sort of “sole source” funding the motion proposes, where a contract is offered to one program specifically, with no competitive bidding, is also not usually the kind of thing the supervisors the county does. But, this situation warrants it, they say.

And in the next round, according to the motion, after a year of the pilot program with Homeboy, the county would open the opportunity, through a conventional competative bidding process, to other programs that, like Homeboy, utilize “the elements of research based, best practice models to address behavior change in previously incarcerated men, women and high-risk youth seeking reentry services.”

Sounds like a good idea to us.

We’ll let you know what happens.


JUVENILE SOLITARY

We will also be closely tracking the vote on another very important motion proposed by Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis to “end juvenile solitary confinement in LA County.” More on that after we see how the vote goes. (It is expected to pass.)


EDITOR’S NOTE: In the interest of transparency, I need to disclose, for those who don’t already know, that I have a strong bias in the direction of Homeboy Industries, mainly because I wrote a book about Father Greg Boyle, Homeboy’s founder, and have been reporting on him, and the organization that he built, and the homeboys and homegirls who’ve come in and out of Homeboy, since 1990.

But this also means, I’ve had a front row seat to watch hundreds of people manage, with Fr. Greg’s and Homeboy’s help, to reroute the trajectory of their lives against staggering odds. In a bunch of cases, I’ve tracked those same people over time—which means sometimes, I’ve seen them backslide, occasionally tragically. But most of the time, the stutter-step back was just a normal part of the complicated and very human task of making one’s way into a transformed and hopeful future. To put it another way, in more than a quarter century of observing Homeboy Industries, I’ve gotten to witness a whole lot of real, no-kidding miracles.

So, yes, speaking personally, I really hope this motion passes.

Posted in Homeboy Industries, Probation | 7 Comments »

Kamala Harris’ Justice Reform History, Live Streaming CA’s High Court, and SCOTUS Won’t Consider Constitutionality of Death Penalty

May 3rd, 2016 by Taylor Walker

A LOOK AT THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM HISTORY OF CA DISTRICT ATTORNEY (AND US SENATE HOPEFUL) KAMALA HARRIS

When Kamala Harris was elected California’s Attorney General in 2010, her past achievements as San Francisco’s District Attorney, and the ideas in her 2009 book, Smart on Crime, led many to believe she would use her position as top prosecutor to make “bold” steps toward reforming the state’s criminal justice system.

But critics say Harris—who is favored to win outgoing US Senator Barbara Boxer’s seat—as Attorney General hasn’t stepped far enough outside of her comfort zone to make the hoped-for changes to California’s justice system.

In an effort to increase law enforcement transparency and accountability, Harris has implemented use-of-force training procedures, police body-worn camera policies, and an open data website that includes city, county, and state crime and arrest rates, deaths during arrest, deaths in custody, and the number of law enforcement officers killed or assaulted. As Attorney General, Harris also launched Back On Track LA, which built on her earlier San Francisco program, connecting inmates with wraparound services including therapy, education, employment training, and other programs to help participants while they’re behind bars and once they return to their communities.

Harris has disappointed civil rights activists by opposing efforts to have special prosecutors, rather than local district attorneys, investigate when cops shoot civilians.

And on both sides of the reform debate, both reform advocates and law enforcement officials have criticized Harris for not picking a side in the debate over Prop. 47, the 2014 voter-approved law that reduced certain non-serious felonies to misdemeanors.

The Sacramento Bee’s Christopher Cadelago has more on the issue. Here are some clips:

“Once she became attorney general, I didn’t see the transition from those initiatives: her writings and her overall philosophy,” said Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable. Harris, he said, could have been “a more vigorous advocate for full criminal justice reform.”

“She’s been confined to (her) comfort zone and unwilling to be big and bold.”

Harris’ reluctance to use the state’s top law enforcement office as a megaphone to advance her earlier work has disappointed allies in the fight, some of whom question whether she’s strategically avoided topics that put her at loggerheads with the law enforcement community she worked hard to bring around since taking office.

[SNIP]

“To look at where the dialogue was in the country before, and where it has gone on criminal justice reform, in many ways it is catching up to what she has been saying since before it was even popular,” said Lenore Anderson, executive director of Californians for Safety and Justice.

Last year, Harris initiated a web-based public portal showing years of arrest and crime rates, and deaths in custody, among other data sets, by department.

She helped develop statewide policies regulating the use of body-worn cameras, saying she favors the technology, and new training on racial profiling, implicit bias and procedural justice, also known as officer communication, which advocates say builds trust, noted Anderson, Harris’ chief of policy when she was district attorney.

“I think it would be impossible for anyone to conclude that the attorney general has been shy about what she thinks on criminal justice,” Anderson said. “This has been a major theme of her tenure as an elected official, both local and statewide.”

Harris touts her career as a prosecutor as preparation for the U.S. Senate, an office she said she’ll use to speak up for society’s voiceless, reduce sentences for nonviolent drug offenders and take questions about criminal backgrounds off job applications. In California, she’s worked to prevent sexual assault, eliminate the rape kit backlog in state labs, fight cyberexploitation and protect sensitive immigrant communities.

Harris said there’s an extensive amount she’s done in cases in which she didn’t invite the media, or politicians, into the room.

“In order for a lot of this stuff to work, law enforcement has to understand the viability and appropriateness so that they will actively participate and cooperate,” she said.

“True, I haven’t been engaged in a lot of grandstanding,” Harris added. “I haven’t sought a lot of publicity on it. But the work has happened. These are things that did not occur before.”


CALIFORNIA SUPREME COURT TO INCREASE TRANSPARENCY BY TELEVISING ORAL ARGUMENTS

Starting today, The California Supreme Court will provide a live webcast of oral arguments with English and Spanish subtitles, in a move by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye to increase public access to the state’s court system.

“The court’s decision to live-stream its regular oral argument sessions is a logical progression for its outreach efforts—using technology to open the courtroom doors to students, practitioners, and the public throughout the state and the nation,” said Frank McGuire, Court Administrator and Clerk of the Supreme Court of California. “It promises to create a greater understanding of the integral role of the court in our constitutional democracy, deciding matters of statewide importance and maintaining uniformity in the law.“

In addition to the webcast, the high court’s website will include a document that identifies the justices, attorneys, the cases and issues before the court, and the cases’ dockets and briefs.


AND SPEAKING OF SUPREME COURTS…THE US SUPREME COURT TURNED DOWN A CHALLENGE TO DEATH PENALTY IN CALIFORNIA

The US Supreme Court Justices rejected a challenge to California’s death penalty system and its decades-long delays as a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

The rejected appeal was brought by Richard Boyer, an Orange County man sentenced to die 32 years ago after murdering an elderly couple. Boyer says the years spent waiting to die were psychologically damaging.

Lone dissenter Justice Stephen Breyer said capital punishment in California suffers from “serious unreliability, arbitrariness in application, and unconscionably long delays that undermine the death penalty’s penological purpose.” Breyer also pointed out that California’s death row inmates more often die from suicide than execution.

While Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined Justice Breyer in a previous 46-page dissent calling on the court to consider whether the death penalty is constitutional, surprisingly, Ginsburg did not sign Breyer’s two-page dissent, which was a condensed version of his earlier opinion.

The New York Times’ Adam Liptak has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

The case was brought by Richard D. Boyer, who has cited the stress of his long wait on death row after being sentenced in 1984 for the murders of an elderly couple in Fullerton, Calif. Referring to the conclusions of a state commission in 2008, Justice Breyer said the delays in Mr. Boyer’s case were the product of a dysfunctional system.

“More California death row inmates had committed suicide than had been executed by the state,” he wrote. “Indeed, only a small, apparently random set of death row inmates had been executed. A vast and growing majority remained incarcerated, like Boyer, on death row under a threat of execution for ever longer periods of time.”

Justice Breyer has emerged as the court’s leading critic of the death penalty. In a sweeping 46-page dissent last June, he urged the court to take a fresh look at the constitutionality of the death penalty.

“It is highly likely that the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment,” he wrote, referring to the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishments. Justice Breyer said that death row exonerations were frequent, that evidence showed innocent people had been executed, that death sentences were imposed arbitrarily, and that the capital justice system was warped by racial discrimination and politics.

Posted in Kamala Harris | No Comments »

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