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RISE High…and Officers Shooting into Cars

September 16th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


A proposed Los Angeles high school for homeless and foster teens was awarded $10 million in grant money after a nationwide competition.

Out of 692 entries in the XQ Super School Project contest funded by Laurene Powell Jobs, Steve Jobs’ widow, ten applicants were selected to receive $10 million to launch and operate barrier-breaking schools.

Contest-winners Kari Croft and Erin Whalen, who developed the RISE high school plan, will open several LA-area RISE campuses to serve up to 500 students at locations shared with established non-profit service providers to ensure kids have the tools they need to complete their academic and life goals. These wraparound services will include medical and mental health care, fitness, meals, legal services, arts, and more. The school aims to eliminate barriers keeping kids from attending school regularly. For example, RISE High will have washers and dryers on campuses, so that students can have clean clothes.

After asking how best to help students—whose living situation is unsteady or far from school—keep on track to graduate, Croft and Whalen decided to create a mobile resource center to transport students to and from class. The bus will serve academic and health needs and provide teens with hygiene products, laptops, cell phone charging stations, and other resources.

Two other schools in California, one in San Diego and one in Oakland, were also among the XQ Super School Project contest-winners. Read more about the contest and the other extraordinary prize-winning school designs.


Law enforcement agencies in Los Angeles County shot into vehicles 28 times between 2010 and 2014, according to an ongoing investigation by KPCC’s Annie Gilbertson and Aaron Mendelson into the practice.

In May, the first investigation revealed that members of LA County Sheriff’s Department shot into moving cars at least nine times (the latest tally is ten times), while LAPD officers shot into vehicles only twice during those five years. The deputies involved justified the shootings by saying that they feared they would be hit by the cars.

Last month, the sheriff’s department brought its policies in line with those of the LAPD and most other LA area police departments, by barring deputies from firing at moving cars except when threatened by a gun or other deadly weapon. A LASD new LASD training video instructs deputies to move out of the way of moving vehicles, explaining that it’s extremely difficult to tell if a driver is attempting to get away or are using their car as a weapon.

Glendale PD and El Monte PD each recorded two such shooting incidents between 2010 and 2014. Fourteen other local and state law enforcement agencies shot into cars one time each during those years.

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.)

Of the law enforcement agencies, KPCC looked into Glendale PD had the most relaxed policy on shooting into vehicles, specifically allowing officers to fire into cars they deem to be weapons. El Monte PD, Long Beach PD, the state parks department, the state corrections department and others have policies similar to that of the LAPD, which does not permit shooting into vehicles perceived to be used as weapons.

Here’s a clip from the KPCC story:

The agencies with multiple shootings, including sheriff’s and police in Los Angeles, El Monte and Glendale, have policies that dictate when and if an officer can fire on vehicle. Among them, the Glendale Police Department’s policy is the most lenient. Glendale’s policy explicitly allows officers to fire on cars they perceive to be weapons. While vehicle shootings are “generally discouraged,” the policy states it “is not intended to restrict an officer’s right to use deadly force directed at the operator of a vehicle.”

In contrast, policies at other agencies in Los Angeles County or that were involved in a shooting in the county — including the LAPD, El Monte PD, Pasadena PD, Long Beach PD, Fullerton PD, the state parks department, and the state corrections department — do not carve out an exception for vehicles perceived to be weapons.

The new policy of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department specifically prohibits deputies from firing upon vehicles perceived as weapons, stating “the moving vehicle itself shall not presumptively constitute a threat that justifies the use of force.” The LAPD uses similar language.

Shootings at moving vehicles are condemned by the U.S. Department of Justice, among others. The tactic is also considered ineffective by experts who argue that even a successful shot at a driver can lead to a car barreling through city streets, while an unsuccessful shot can injure or kill a bystander.

“The argument that the vehicle was being used as a weapon generally doesn’t hold up,” said Dennis Jay Kenney, a criminal justice professor at John Jay College. “If you have time to make the shoot/don’t shoot decision and shoot, then you also undoubtedly had time to get out of the way.”

Posted in law enforcement | 7 Comments »

What is “Voluntary” Juvenile Probation? And Does it Help or Harm LA County’s Kids? – by Jeremy Loudenback

September 15th, 2016 by witnessla


The consistent decline in juvenile crime, along with study after study showing that many kids do far better in community-based programs rather than in county lock-ups, has led to a large drop in population in LA County’s juvenile halls and camps, along with a significant downturn in the number of youth on court-ordered probation.

There is, however, one youth program run by Los Angeles County Probation Department, the population of which is radically on the rise.

It is a school-based program that is informally known as voluntary probation, and it has flown largely under the radar.

In the story below, reporter Jeremy Loudenback, the Child Trauma Editor for The Chronicle of Social Change, examines this little-known but heavily funded LA County Probation strategy that some child advocates say is a misuse of millions of dollars in state funds, which would be better allocated to community intervention programs with data-backed ability to help kids stay out of the justice system.

Instead, say youth advocates, kids in need of tutoring, mentoring, counseling, sports programs, and other kinds of positive activities and alternatives that are known to help adolescents steer their lives in a healthy direction, are—for all intents and purposes—on probation, reporting to probation officers side-by-side with other probation kids, except without a judicial order.

“Most of these kids think they really are on probation,” a source familiar with the program told us. “And their friends think they’re on probation too.”

Also of concern is the fact that the money to pay for this so-called voluntary probation comes out of the approximately $31 million that LA County receives yearly from the state that is specifically designated for local programs aimed at keeping kids who’ve tangled with the juvenile justice system from returning, and to help kids at risk of winding up in the system from entering it in the first place.

Yet, the largest chunk of that $31 million is not paying for juvenile programing that has been proven to produce measurably positive outcomes. According to probation department documents that WitnessLA has obtained, the biggest piece of the monetary pie is going to help to pay the salaries and benefits for the county’s juvenile probation officers—salaries that are reportedly meant to be paid out of other pockets of Probation’s $830 million yearly budget.

WitnessLA will have more on this issue in the coming months. But Loudenback’s excellent report below is the essential place to start.

This is also, by the way, one of a number of important juvenile justice issues that we hope the new, soon-to-be-selected Chief of Los Angeles County Probation will explore with a critical eye.

So get comfortable, and start reading.


by Jeremy Loudenback

While Los Angeles County has seen a historic decline of the number of youth
in its juvenile camps and halls in recent years, a “voluntary probation” program run by the Los Angeles County Probation Department has dramatically expanded during that time, alarming some advocates.

The arrangement allows probation officers to work with at-risk youth in schools with no prior history of involvement with the justice system, as long as their families sign off.

There are nearly 3,600 youth on voluntary probation, according to a data snapshot recently provided by the Probation Department.

According to RAND data released last month, the number of youth on voluntary probation has grown by nearly 40 percent over the past two years. And since 2013-2014, the number of youth on voluntary probation in the school-based supervision program has exceeded the number of youngsters in the program who have been arrested and are on formal probation.


The spike has prompted advocates to question why probation officers are now so often a part of the lives of youth with academic problems, and what the role of probation should be.

“Even if a young person needs tutoring, we should be asking whether a probation officer providing or doing the referral for tutoring is really what we should be asking probation officers to do,” said Patricia Soung, a senior staff attorney with the Children’s Defense Fund-California. “This is a significant shift in population, and it’s not apparent to me that there’s been a corresponding change on the department’s side to accommodate the new demographics.”

At an April meeting of the county’s children commission, the Probation Department first released preliminary data about these youngsters, known as “236 youth” because of the state statute that allows the Probation Department to work with them.

That law — known as Welfare and Institutions Code 236 — allows probation departments in California to “engage in activities designed to prevent juvenile delinquency.” The law permits probation officers to provide services to any youth in the community, not just those being supervised by a probation officer as part of a court order.

The money that funds the school-based supervision program is allocated from the Juvenile Justice Crime Prevention Act (JJCPA). In 2001, the state started doling out $100 million a year in JJCPA money to counties for prevention and intervention services aimed at young people.

Los Angeles County’s share last year came to about $30 million, and the Probation Department has invested a substantial portion of those funds for its work in schools. More than 100 deputy probation officers have been installed at schools across the county, including at 58 middle and high schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Youth who are on voluntary probation — the so-called 236 youth — check in with officers at school, alongside youth who are in the system already, as part of court-ordered probation because of an arrest.

Youth can only be placed on voluntary probation with the consent of a parent, who must sign a waiver and contract.

Of the 3,590 youth on voluntary probation in L.A. County in March, more than 80 percent were referred to the school-based supervision program for school-related issues such as poor school attendance, grades or behavior.

“If we know that almost 80 percent of reasons for referral are something related to attendance, grades or school behavior-related, then I really question whether probation case management is what that young person really needs versus school intervention,” Soung said. “The practice is counter to research that shows probation supervision should really focus on high-risk, high-need youth.”

The remaining 20 percent were referred to the program for being unmotivated, having anger issues, substance abuse problems and parental conflict, among other challenges.

While at school, the 236 youth receive many services not usually associated with probation. Nearly 31 percent — or 1,106 youth — received tutoring services from probation officers. About 18 percent received gang prevention services, while 11 percent were able to access family counseling.

Probation Department Deputy Chief Felicia Cotton says that the school-based supervision program is a purely preventative effort that doesn’t cause youth to end up in the system. Voluntary probation, she says, is an important tool that the department can offer parents who fear their wayward children are on the brink of getting into real trouble.

“A lot of parents come to us because they see their kid on the verge of hanging out with the wrong crowd, flirting with gang activity, not going school,” Cotton said. “The parent doesn’t know what to do. They’re afraid. They come to us.”

Cotton says that the program has made the on-campus probation officers a “hot commodity” with school officials, who see it as a valuable resource to address truancy and other school-related issues.

Because data about 236 youth is not logged into the probation department’s case-management system, the increased number of youth on voluntary probation has escaped notice from some in the county’s juvenile justice community. More important, the lack of data around these youth has made it difficult to evaluate whether it has been successful in preventing at-risk youth from becoming more entangled in the county’s sprawling juvenile-justice system.

“If probation is going to focus time, effort and resources on a 236 population, then it is incumbent upon them to evaluate the impact of that,” said Denise Herz, a California State University, Los Angeles researcher who has studied outcomes for young people in the county’s juvenile justice system. “They’re not doing that and they should.”


Beyond these concerns about data, the department’s investment in school-based supervision raises larger questions about the role of probation during a time of significant demographic change, an issue that other counties across the state are also grappling with.

Youth arrest rates have plummeted in California since the mid-1990s. Juvenile arrests for violent offenses declined by 70 percent across the state from 1995 to 2015, according to the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice.

In Los Angeles County, the juvenile arrest rate in Los Angeles County has dropped by 60 percent from 2010 to 2014, and 30 percent since 2012.

Over that time, the Probation Department has also seen a stark decline in the population of youth at camps and halls. The average daily population of its 13 juvenile camps is 600, with 700 youth in juvenile halls and approximately 10,400 youth under supervision. This is a far cry from more than a decade ago, when more than 30,000 youth were on probation and 4,000 youth cycled through the county’s detention facilities.

With L.A. county currently searching for a new probation chief and hoping to implement a therapeutic approach at its still-troubled juvenile halls, the department’s shift to voluntary probation is leading some to question how probation services should best be deployed, both in L.A. and across the state.

As probation departments manage smaller caseloads, will they re-invent themselves into different functions — such as case management for community-based services — that have more in common with social services than public safety?

For now, Probation Commissioner Cyn Yamashiro hopes the department will share more information at a probation commission meeting in October to address lingering concerns.

“If the supervision is a tool that is being used to effectively prevent penetration into the juvenile justice system, that’s important,” Yamashiro said. “If on the other hand, the data reveals that it’s not helping to divert youth away from the juvenile justice system and it ends up a way to increase or capture more youth in the system, that’s something we want to know, too.”

Jeremy Loudenback is the Child Trauma Editor for the Chronicle of Social Change, where Loudenback’s story—and the accompanying graphics—originally appeared.

Posted in juvenile justice, Juvenile Probation | 1 Comment »

Will the LA County Board of Supes Consult Community Experts Before Choosing a New Probation Chief?

September 15th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

Last week we wrote about the five finalists being considered for the position
of chief of Los Angeles County’s Department of Probation, the largest such agency in the nation, and an agency still—to put it politely—loaded with challenges.

At that time, it seemed that, after months of delay, the five members of the county’s board of supervisors were speeding toward a decision.

But since we last wrote, it seems that that they may possibly have put on the brakes, at least a little, to allow room for further deliberation.

Or maybe not.

Frankly, it’s hard to tell, since the board has not been terribly forthcoming about the process.

In the meantime, three prominent youth experts, who represent three organizations that each do significant work with the county’s kids, have written an op ed for the Daily News in which they ask he supes to please include members of the larger community in their decision making, rather than doing the whole thing in secret, as is the case now.

The three authors are Alex Johnson, executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund-California; Susan Lee, executive director of the Urban Peace Institute; and Diwaine Smith, a community organizer at the Youth Justice Coalition, who had his own interactions with the probation and courts system when he was younger.

Here are some clips from what the three wrote about the importance of engaging the help and advice of those who represent kids most directly affected by the system, which the new chief will oversee.

Over the last week, five final candidates interviewed for the position of chief of the Los Angeles County Probation Department. This week, the County Board of Supervisors will choose the next chief in a closed session, without community input or insight. The new chief will be our seventh in 10 years.

We represent organizations that work with youth who have been impacted by the probation and court systems in Los Angeles. Collectively, we have experienced the juvenile justice system first-hand. We have supported youth negotiating court processes and law enforcement contacts. And together we have changed policies so that young people cast as “delinquents” and “juvenile offenders” are treated with compassion, dignity and respect. We represent organizers, advocates, lawyers and community members — including youth and families impacted by these systems — who vote and care about how public dollars are invested in youth, in their communities and in safety.

Our organizations have long been concerned by crises in the Los Angeles County Probation Department — from a lack of leadership, vision and integrity, to outright scandals exposing both staff abuse of young people and fiscal mismanagement. One example is the failure to spend more than $21 million in state funds on effective youth intervention programs and services, and another $140 million for similar adult services. We have also been concerned about the lack of community engagement in making key decisions — like the selection of the new Los Angeles County chief probation officer.

Engaging, without tokenizing, the voices of directly impacted youth, families and other community leaders in important decision-making is not only just but strategic. It is part of building trust with the broader public. It is essential to delivering services that are responsive to people’s needs. Authentic community engagement also lends legitimacy to county decisions in the long run, and is part of an effective oversight mechanism.

Nine months have passed since Jerry Powers, amid controversy, resigned as head of the department. Seven months have passed since we came together to propose ideas for selecting and setting priorities for new leadership in order to transform the largest probation department in the world.

In a February 2016 letter and in several meetings with county staff, we asked the Board of Supervisors to hire a chief who could change the department’s culture from a punitive, law enforcement orientation to one focused on youth and community development, intervention and rehabilitation. We asked for leadership that would align the Probation Department with the highest standards for trauma-informed care, transformative justice and successful healing and reunification of system-involved young people with their families and communities. We asked that the new chief lead with clear vision, inspiration, moral integrity and strong management. Following the successes of places like New York and Washington, D.C., we asked that the county hire a chief from outside of probation and law enforcement, and someone with meaningful experience in youth development and institutional change.

The three go on to point out that in the past decade the county has gone through one chief after the other. Each “promised change,” yet nearly all resigned amid controversy and/or scandal, as in the case of the most recent probation chief, Jerry Powers.

In our letter, we also asked that the Board of Supervisors ensure the community’s involvement in the selection of a new chief, as well as in shaping the future vision and work. We proactively proposed criteria for candidates, names of candidates and a different process for selection. Thankfully, some of those ideas shaped the job description and recruitment of candidates for the position. Still, since February, little about the process has been inclusive or transparent. We are still without a chief.

And now, all but one of five final candidates — while accomplished — come from the law enforcement arena.

Once again, we urge that the county Board of Supervisors and all of Los Angeles work together toward truly transforming and holding the Probation Department accountable to effectively serving L.A.’s most underserved communities. We continue to urge that the county open up the candidate selection process and slate, and think outside of the box in selecting a visionary chief….

You can read the rest of the op ed here.

We hope the Supes will take the time to read it too.

Posted in Probation | 3 Comments »

Noteworthy New Laws, and Bills on the Governor’s Desk….and Policing Skid Row

September 14th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


On Monday, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill giving all female state prisoners access to contraceptive counseling and their birth control of choice, upon request. The bill’s author Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) notes that some women incarcerated in California can have conjugal visits.

“This law means that an inmate will be able to more fully engage in family planning before she’s released, enhancing the likelihood of a successful re-entry into society,” said Mitchell.

The bill, SB 1433, will require corrections facilities to provide incarcerated women who can become pregnant with information about the availability of family planning services behind bars. SB 1433 requires those services and contraceptives to female inmates at least 60 days before their scheduled release from prison.

Another bill Brown signed into law on Monday, AB 2083, will authorize disclosure of otherwise confidential information—like mental health records, child abuse reports, and criminal background information—to interagency child death review teams.

These teams help local agencies look into suspicious child fatalities, in order to identify child abuse and neglect-related deaths. The teams also work to make sure that siblings and other non-offending loved ones are connected with appropriate services following the death of a child. The bill passed through both the Senate and Assembly with full support before receiving the final stamp from Brown.

The LA Times Editorial Board has listed several bills—so-called “stinkers”—that have reached Brown’s desk, but (according to the board) should not be signed.

The first bill the board believes Brown should veto is AB 2888, a well-intended bill introduced in response to the very unpopular six-month jail sentence given to Stanford rapist Brock Turner.

Under current law, many felony sex crimes—rape by force, aggravated sexual assault of a child, and others—disqualify those convicted from receiving a sentence of probation. Prison time must be served. But sexual assault of someone who is unconscious or too intoxicated to consent (a la Brock Turner) does not carry a mandatory prison sentence. That would change if the governor chose to sign AB 2888.

By prohibiting probation, the bill would create new mandatory minimum sentencing, as justice reformers and lawmakers work to reduce the prevalence of mandatory minimum sentencing, which disproportionately affects people of color.

The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board also criticize the “heavy-handed” bill, which would take sentencing discretion away from judges and give it to prosecutors.

AB 2888 is also running in opposition to Governor Jerry Brown’s Proposition 57, which voters will decide on in November. Prop. 57 increases non-violent felony offenders’ access to early release credits. The ballot measure would bar inmates accused of violent felonies included in Penal Code Section 667.5, which does not count rape of an unconscious person as a violent offense.

A group of 25 feminist organizations wrote a letter to Brown, calling for a veto of AB 2888. In the letter, they explain that while raping someone while they are unconscious isn’t any less harmful than raping a conscious person, “mandatory minimum-term laws are a harmful, mistaken solution to our rightful anger over the Brock Turner case and the many others like it.”

In the letter, the women’s groups argue that mandatory minimums can even dissuade victims, particularly those assaulted by a family member, partner, or friend, from reporting assault. “When survivors do come forward, mandatory minimums deter prosecutors from pressing charges against particular defendants—namely those who, like Turner, are white and wealthy—and make juries less likely to convict,” the letter reads. And the threat of mandatory minimum sentences doesn’t actually reduce assault. “Studies have shown that the severity of sanction does not deter violence,” the letter continues.

Vice’s Tess Owen has more on the letter.

Another bill the Times editorial board believes Brown should veto is SB 813, the bill to eliminate the statute of limitations for sexual assaults (which is currently 10 years).
The bill was triggered by the fact that the statute of limitations has been up for many of the dozens of women who have come forward and accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault. Proponents believe the bill would get rid of “arbitrary” deadline for seeking justice. Opponents of SB 813 argue that removing the statute of limitations would make wrongful convictions more likely.

Read the rest.


On Tuesday, Brown also signed budget bill AB 1628, which officially authorizes the state to issue up to $2 billion in bonds to fund the “No Place Like Home” Initiative.

The “No Place Like Home” money will go to counties to pay for permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless people suffering from mental illness.

Senate President pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) says developing supportive housing “will improve the quality of life in our communities and give hope to thousands of Californians currently living in despair across our state.”


In spite of law enforcement efforts to provide compassionate “relationship policing”, relations between police and Skid Row’s homeless are tenuous, says sociologist Forrest Stuart.

In his new book, Down, Out, and Under Arrest: Policing and Everyday Life in Skid Row, sociologist Forrest Stuart explains why law enforcement’s “therapeutic policing” model may seem more like punishment to LA’s homeless, rather than compassion.

Stuart argues that giving people who commit minor infractions—like entering a crosswalk after the countdown clock has started ticking—a choice between receiving a ticket and taking advantage of available services, does not build trust between Skid Row residents and officers, even if the strategy is well-intentioned. Instead, Stuart believes ramping up permanent affordable housing—with those services—is a better strategy.

Stuart discusses his book on KPCC’s Take Two with hosts A. Martinez and Alex Cohen. Here’s a clip:

Police in Skid Row would target people who do that and give them a ticket.

At the same time, however, those officers will say the ticket can go away IF that person gets assistance from one of the nearby social service providers.

“There’s this notion that people have chosen to be poor, that people have chosen to have chronic addictions,” says Stuart. “When we talk to officers, one of the ideas is, ‘I want to make this place as uncomfortable as physically possible so people don’t want to live here.’”

Stuart says that officers, themselves, see that they are acting out of compassion for the people of Skid Row and that those social services will help get them off the streets and out of the neighborhood.

“What I was hearing time after time was that these officers would have to throw their hands up and say, ‘I’m not a social worker, I’m not a case worker. But yet the city has asked me to deal with all of these social issues,’” says Stuart.

Meanwhile, the people of Skid Row getting those citations viewed service organizations with suspicion and distrust, according to Stuart.

Couples would need to be apart because shelters and services are separated by gender, for instance, or shelters would force residents to abandon most of their belongings to bring in just one bag with them.

“These spaces – people look at them as not a real, viable alternative,” he says, “but now they’ve got police saying, ‘Either you go into these places or else we’re going to arrest you.’”

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry) | 9 Comments »

A Police Commission Nominee…and Prison Strikes

September 13th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


On Monday, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti nominated Shane Murphy Goldsmith to replace outgoing Kathleen Kim on the LA Police Commission.

Goldsmith is a member of the LA Homeless Services Authority Board of Commissioners, the President and CEO of Liberty Hill Foundation, and co-chair of the California Executive Alliance for Boys and Men of Color in Southern California.

Before Goldsmith started working at Liberty Hill, she worked under (then) City Council President Eric Garcetti, as a senior advisor, and focused on housing, public safety, the budget, and LGBTQ issues. Goldsmith also served as the executive director of an affordable housing development group called PATH Ventures.

Goldsmith has “a well-earned reputation for fair-mindedness, and a deep sense of compassion that informs everything she does,” Mayor Garcetti said. “She is a thoughtful leader who has worked closely with the officers who serve L.A.’s neighborhoods, and who truly understands the urgency of conversations about the future of law enforcement, how and when deadly force should be used, and strengthening trust between the LAPD and communities of color.”

Kim, who is stepping down after serving on the commission for three years, is a law professor and expert on immigration and human trafficking.

Garcetti praised Kim for “fighting to protect and improve the LAPD’s relationship with L.A.’s immigrant communities, and playing a key role in developing the Department’s homelessness policy.”

The LA City Council still has to officially confirm Goldsmith to the commission.


On Friday, the 45th anniversary of the 1971 Attica Prison riot in New York, inmate workers launched a nationwide labor strike.

Prisoners across the US are conducting a coordinated protest against conditions inside America’s prisons, including forced prison labor that either doesn’t pay inmates anything at all, or pays them pennies per hour.

The strike was largely organized by the Free Alabama Movement, a prisoner-led human rights group, which designated Friday, September 9, as a National Day of Solidarity to End Prison Slavery. All inmates at Holman Prison, FAM’s main hub, peacefully declined to show up to their prison jobs Friday, leaving officers to take on the work.

“To every prisoner in every state and federal institution across this land, we call on you to stop being a slave, to let the crops rot in the plantation fields, to go on strike and cease reproducing the institutions of your confinement,” the FAM leaders write.

Inmates are reportedly striking in 40 correctional facilities in 24 states including California. The strikers are joined by people protesting and rallying in cities nationwide including Portland, Los Angeles, Oakland, Phoenix, Atlanta, and Chicago.

Writing for Vice and the Influence, formerly incarcerated writer Jeremy Galloway has more on the ongoing strikes. Here’s a clip:

Prior to the official strike kickoff, inmates at Holmes Correctional Institution, in the Florida panhandle, led an uprising that forced the facility to be shut down. More than 400 inmates participated in that rebellion, which the prison administration has linked to the national strikes.

As the list of facilities involved expands, the South continues to lead the way. Prisoners in multiple Alabama prisons, at least two other Florida prisons, Fluvanna women’s prison in Virginia, and prisoners in North Carolina and South Carolina all reportedly engaged in various forms of resistance. Most Georgia prisoners don’t work on Fridays, but some on-the-ground reports indicate that they plan to join the actions when their work week begins today (September 12).

But the South does not stand alone. More than 400 prisoners at Kinross Correctional Facility, Michigan, held a protest on the prison yard and caused property damage to the prison, prompting officials to transfer 150 of them to other facilities. Clallam Bay Correctional Center in Washington State is also said to be on lockdown after actions there.

Many women prisoners are involved: Those held at Central California Women’s Prison, a women’s prison in Nebraska, at Lincoln (Nebraska) Correctional Center, a women’s prison in Kansas, and at Merced Jail in California have either refused to work, are on hunger strike, and/or have led uprisings in their facilities, I’m told.

It’s significant that so much of the resistance is focused on women’s facilities (although this certainly isn’t without precedent: The 1974 Bedford Hills and 1975 North Carolina Correctional Institute for Women uprisings are two of the most significant events in US prison history). Women, especially young women of color, make up the fastest-growing corrections population, at least in local jails. And the history of resistance in US women’s prisons continues to rapidly unfold, even if the media pays it little attention.

The actions haven’t been limited to jails and prisons, either. Friends, family, and supporters of incarcerated people took to the streets across the country to express solidarity and support for the strikes. Atlanta, Arizona, Portland, Lucasville (Ohio), Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, St. Louis, New York, Providence, Richmond, Durham, Austin, Denver, Los Angeles, and plenty of other large and small US cities have seen protestors, sometimes numbering into the hundreds, take to the streets or picket prisons.

In Atlanta, where I live, about 50 people disrupted business Friday at Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Starbucks, and Aramark—companies that have been accused of exploiting barely compensated incarcerated labor—during street protests. According to witnesses, police responded by trying to run over protesters and dousing protesters, bystanders, and one another with pepper spray.

Posted in LAPD | No Comments »

Prop 57 Debate Rising to a Fever Pitch as November Draws Closer

September 13th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

As California nears the November election, the debate surrounding Governor Jerry Brown’s criminal justice initiative is intensifying. Proposition 57 would take the power to transfer kids to adult court out of the hands of prosecutors and give the control back to judges. It would also as increase parole eligibility for non-violent offenders who have completed the base sentence for their primary offense and boost access to early release credits.

Critics—who are largely law enforcement leaders and district attorneys—say the measure could allow for the early release of violent offenders because it is too vague. They point, for example, to rape by use of drugs and sexual penetration or oral copulation of an unconscious person, which are not classified as “violent” in California law.

Governor Brown and Prop. 57 proponents argue that offenders aren’t going to get a free pass to get out of prison. The inmates will have to be screened for public security and go before the parole board.

Brown says the initiative is a common-sense response to the US Supreme Court’s order to reduce prison overcrowding in California. “Eighty percent of what Proposition 57 does is being done right now under the force of a court order,” Brown said. About 7,000 inmates categorized as non-violent felony offenders who have completed their base sentences would be able to apply for parole, according to the Associated Press, but around 5,700 of those offenders are reportedly already eligible for parole because of the federal court order.

KQED’s Marisa Lagos has more on the debate. Here’s a clip:

Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert said many crimes that are violent are considered nonviolent under state law, and that allowing people to be released early violates a compact the state made with victims.

“You might have a guy that gets sentenced by a judge and after having heard from a defense attorney and a DA and a victim and the defendant, and the judge says, ‘Mr. Jones, I sentence you to 25 years. That’s based upon the crimes. It’s based upon these enhancements. It’s based upon your prior convictions for violent crimes. You have 25 years,’ ” she said. “Now, the victim who had the courage and fortitude to come into a courtroom and testify, say on a domestic violence case — poof. That’s all gone.”

She called the measure “very dangerous for California” and “disgraceful for victims of crime.”

But Brown argued the ballot measure’s provisions are a natural extension of actions the court has already ordered the state to undertake. Currently, many people in prison under the state’s three-strikes law are being paroled early under a process similar to what Proposition 57 proposes.

“Eighty percent of what Proposition 57 does is being done right now under the force of a court order. It is backed up by the United States Supreme Court and which we cannot change unless they say our remedy, in this case Proposition 57, is durable and serves the end of justice,” Brown said.

He said the changes must be combined with rehabilitative programs.

“Education, junior college programs, drug treatment, more intensive mental health,” he said. “All these things that will take people — many have been abused as children, neglected, starting narcotics when they are 10 or 12, and are turning their lives around with some professional help.”

The governor says inmates will be more inclined to participate in those programs if they have the opportunity to leave prison sooner — and that society will be safer if they leave prison rehabilitated.


In an interview with The Atlantic’s Juleyka Lantigua-Williams, “Hangover” series producer-turned justice-reform advocate Scott Budnick talks about his involvement with Prop. 57 and why he believes it to be “one of the smartest measures that has ever been put forward.”

Budnick, who left Hollywood behind to found the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC), helped draft the language in both the juvenile justice portion of the initiative and the sections dealing with adult prisoners.

Budnick says incentivizing education and rehabilitation programs through the use of good time credits will result in improved chances of success for inmates exiting prison, and thus, hopefully reduced recidivism.

Here’s a clip (but go over to The Atlantic to read the rest):

Lantigua-Williams: The governor decided to introduce adult provisions into what was originally a bill about juvenile offenders.

Budnick: If you think about it, it’s not juvenile versus adult. The juveniles who we’re talking about in a direct-file piece are going to adult prison, going to adult court, and getting adult sentences. They’re only juvenile in age. In California, they’re not treated as juveniles. Once they’re direct filed, in every part of their contact with the system they become an adult.

Lantigua-Williams: California has been leading the charge in terms of trying to reduce incarcerations. Do you see Prop. 57 as an overall play toward that?

Budnick: I don’t think it’s an ambitious plan to decarcerate. The governor obviously has a population cap that judges have given him for the system, and the governor realizes that the people who are leaving prison under our current mechanism have no incentive to rehabilitate whatsoever. They can just sit in prison. Imagine if you had a nine-year determinate sentence: You could sit and shoot up heroin and continue gang politics, and you’re still getting released in nine years. There’s nothing that you need to do before then. You could get drunk every night in prison, party, have fun, and there is nothing that forces you to change, that forces you to go to education programs, forces you to get a job, forces you to learn a trade, forces you to go to therapy. None of that exists right now. The people who are actually getting out of prison under our current system have no incentive to change whatsoever.

That’s why Prop. 57 includes the rehabilitation credits for educational achievements, GEDs, college, jobs, career technical education. You incentivize someone with the ability to get out a few months earlier, a year earlier. If they’ve completed all these things, all the evidence points to reduced recidivism. What makes a safer community is the amount of people who decide to change. Decide to not use drugs anymore. Decide to not involve themselves in gangs.

Every single person in prison who makes that decision comes out and makes us a safer community. If we can triple that number, quadruple that number, go 10 times that number of people—who choose to change and come into the community, are now college students, are now union workers or working at businesses, are not gang members, are not drug dealers, and are not drug addicts—that’s real public safety. This is one of the smartest measures that has ever been put forward. It’s really, really smart on crime.


The San Francisco Chronicle’s editorial board has recommended “yes” on Prop. 57, saying that Prop. 57 gives inmates real incentive to participate in education and rehabilitation programs to earn early release credits. Here’s a clip:

Simply allowing a certain class of offenders — those who have served their base sentences for a nonviolent felony offense — the opportunity to be eligible for early release doesn’t mean they’re all going to earn it. These offenders still have to be screened for public safety, and then they have to go before the parole board.

The difference is that now they’ll have an incentive to be better civilians. Under the current system, offenders have little motivation to participate in rehabilitative programs. Instead, they’re encouraged to sit in prison — a difficult, dangerous environment — and wait until their sentence is finished. When they’re released, they’re often more dangerous than they were when they went in.

Prop. 57 requires California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to implement a new system of credits for inmates based on their successful participation in evidence-based rehabilitation programs like education and drug treatment. The state prison system awards the sentencing credits, and then the parole board makes the final decision about whether an offender is worthy of release.

“This does nothing to change sentencing,” said Mark Bonini, chief probation officer for Amador County. “Nothing changes on the sentencing side. The people we’re talking about are going to be released to (parole) supervision, and this gives us a better chance of rehabilitation.”

Posted in prison | 1 Comment »

New Study Shows How Subtle Cues Given During Interrogation Can Alter the Memory of Eyewitnesses

September 12th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


As readers may remember, in July of this year, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors agreed to pay Francisco Carrillo a civil rights settlement of $10.1 million for 20 years of wrongful imprisonment. (We reported on Franky Carrillo’s case here.)

Carrillo was sixteen when a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy allegedly influenced a crucial witness to wrongly pick Carrillo as the shooter in a murder that the teenager didn’t commit, resulting in his conviction, and a life sentence.

Carrillo always insisted on his innocence, and he eventually persuaded a team of defense lawyers to take on his case and, in 2011, they secured his release. Forensic psychologist Scott Fraser became part of that team, and presented evidence at a Habeas hearing showing that the witnesses who initially couldn’t have seen what they claimed to have seen. (Five of the six original witnesses had already recanted their original testimony, The sixth invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.)

In the TEDx talk above, Fraser refers to the Carrillo case as he explains how the fallibility of human memory can affect eyewitness testimony.


Of course, in the case of Franky Carrillo, it wasn’t simply that the witnesses memories were inaccurate. Instead, the main witness was reportedly influenced by an LA County sheriff’s deputy who appeared to have decided that Carrillo was the shooter.

Then the newly reconstituted memory of the first teenage witness influenced five more teenagers who, after talking to their friend, suddenly believed that they too had seen Carrillo shoot the victim.

Recent years have produced a growing body of research regarding the ways in which certain kinds of interrogations can alter the memories of eyewitnesses, or produce false confessions in suspects.

For instance, there is research showing that giving an eyewitness “direct negative feedback” about what they remember having seen or heard, along with “suggestive questioning” can lead the eyewitness to change what he or she reports remembering.

Other studies have indicated that even non-verbal feedback can influence what a witness believes that he or she remembers.

Now a newly published study by Dr. Linda A. Henkel, who researches memory at Fairfield University in Connecticut, shows how certain kinds of “negative feedback” delivered in a pleasant, supportive manner by an interviewer can cause eyewitnesses to change what they report remembering about a crime they have witnessed.

In an article published in Psychology Crime & Law, Henkel explains that the study consisted of two separate experiments in which 229 participants—179 women and 50 men—were each shown a video depicting a crime. Then each witness/participant was interviewed twice about the video.

In the first interview, the witnesses were simply questioned about what they had seen or heard about the crime in the video.

Then, after that first round of interviews, according to Henkel, the questioner gave half of the participants “supportive negative feedback” about what they said they’d observed, while the other half of the witness/participants got “neutral feedback” about what they reported having seen on the video.

The supportive negative feedback might be “sympathetically suggesting why many people’s memory may be inaccurate.” Or the interviewer might subtlety but non-critically suggest that what the witness reported was wrong, and that he or she should try harder to remember correctly.

The results of the experiments showed that those participants given supportive negative feedback changed significantly more of their responses between the first and second round of questioning, than those who were given neutral feedback by the questioners. In other words, the memories of the group who received the negative feedback, no matter how pleasantly delivered, actually seemed to change between the first and second round of questioning.

The Crime Report also has a story about the study and notes that Henkel reported that “the feedback does not have to be as explicit as saying ‘You got a lot wrong,’ but can arise from implying that one’s report is unsatisfactory,” or even if the questioner suddenly becomes abrupt in their manner toward the participant.


The fact that, in approximately three-quarters of the cases of people exonerated in recent years by the Innocence Project, the convictions hinged on eyewitness testimony, suggests that the topic of eyewitness fallibility is important arena for additional research.

For instance, writes Henkel, “future research” is needed to “better understand whether, when people change their responses upon repeated questioning, they truly believe that the event happened the way they now claim.” Or if “participants had relatively low levels of confidence in their memories, and hence may have been responding with what they assumed or guessed might be the correct response, rather than relying on what they actually remembered.”

Nationally recognized memory researcher, Elizabeth Loftus of the University of California, Irvine, had this to say about the issue.

“Eyewitness testimony is very powerful and convincing to jurors, even though it is not particularly reliable. Identification errors occur, and these errors can lead to people being falsely accused and even convicted.

“Likewise, eyewitness memory can be corrupted by leading questions, misinterpretations of events, conversations with co-witnesses, and their own expectations for what should have happened. People can even come to remember whole events that never occurred.”

Yet, since we still depend heavily upon eyewitnesses in the legal arena, research like that of Henkel’s may help us better understand their uses, their limitations, and the nature of their potential corruptibility.

Posted in Sentencing | 1 Comment »

Case Against LASD Deputy Dismissed…Different Views on Capital Punishment in CA…Jobs for Foster Youth

September 9th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


On Wednesday, LA Superior Court Judge C.H. Rehm dismissed a criminal case against Gregory Rodriguez, an LA County Sheriff’s deputy accused of perjury and of filing a false police report justifying the arrest of Christopher Gray by claiming that the man attempted to free people who were in police custody. Following a week-long trial that ended in a deadlocked jury (eight of twelve jurors voted not guilty), prosecutors from the LA County DA’s Justice System Integrity Division announced on Wednesday that they could not proceed and would drop the charges against Rodriguez.

The trial, which started July 29, included video evidence that prosecutors said proved Rodriguez lied about Gray’s actions leading up to the arrest. In the video, Gray appears to be calmly watching deputies make an arrest before Rodriguez confronted him and arrested him. (You can watch clips from the video footage here.) In an interview with NBC LA, Roger Clark, a police procedures consultant and former LASD lieutenant called the false reporting intentional, saying, “This should have been caught early, early on.”

Gray, who reportedly sustained a serious shoulder injury during the arrest and lost his job while he spent five days in jail on a felony charge, settled with the sheriff’s department for around $550,000. The LA County Board of Supervisors still has to approve the settlement amount.

If Rodriguez had been convicted, the (former) deputy would have faced up to four years and eight months behind bars.


In November, California voters will decide between two competing ballot initiatives—one to abolish the death penalty in the state, and the other to speed up the appeals process for those sentenced to death.

The two measures have created considerable buzz. Critics of Proposition 66 argue that truncating the appeals process could lead to the execution of innocent people.

In an op-ed for the San Diego Union Tribune, co-founder of the California Innocence Project, Justin Brooks, tells the cautionary story of Bill Richards, a former death row inmate who was exonerated after 23 years. The decades it took to prove that Richards did not kill his wife and to free him from death row is not unusual, either. Seven of the last ten death row exonerations nationwide occurred after inmates had been on death row for more than 25 years. And more than 150 people have been declared innocent after a death sentence in the United States. Here’s a clip:

The jury in the third and final trial relied on highly questionable evidence: a thread allegedly found under the victim’s fingernail that matched Bill’s shirt; unscientific blood splatter evidence; and testimony by an expert that an alleged bite mark on Pamela’s body matched Bill.

After years of litigation, the California Innocence Project was finally able to get access to and testing of all of the crime scene evidence. Based on photos taken during the autopsy, there was substantial evidence that the blue fiber from Bill’s shirt was planted under Pamela’s fingernails. DNA testing of hair found under Pamela’s fingernails proved it did not match her nor Bill. Male DNA found on the murder weapon also did not match Bill. Finally, the actual prosecution expert who testified at trial that Bill’s teeth matched the bite mark recanted his trial testimony and admitted it was false.

After a lengthy habeas hearing, where all of this evidence was presented, a judge who was a former tough-on-crime prosecutor reversed Bill’s conviction. That was nine years ago. Shortly thereafter, the reversal was reversed with the California Supreme Court ruling that expert testimony cannot be deemed false, even when the expert himself admits it was false. Bill remained in prison for nine more years, battling cancer, while the California Innocence Project and others fought to change the law which finally resulted in Bill’s release this past June — after 23 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.

The same opportunity to prove innocence in California may not be available to defendants sentenced to death in the future if Proposition 66 passes this November. Under Proposition 66, arbitrary timelines will be established and there may not be time within those timelines to prove innocence. The initiative would also require inexperienced attorneys to represent individuals facing the death penalty, even though ineffective assistance of counsel is one of the leading causes of wrongful convictions.

Another example of alleged prosecutorial misconduct leading to questionable convictions is the scandal-plagued Orange County District Attorney’s Office. Read the latest in that saga: here.

Gary Tyler, a black man who was wrongfully convicted at 16 in 1974 of murdering a white high school cheerleader, supports Prop. 62—the bill to get rid of the death penalty. The Supreme Court overturned Tyler’s death sentence within two years, but Tyler spent more than four decades in prison with a life sentence before he was exonerated. Listen to Tyler speak out in support of Prop. 62 on Midday Edition.

For the most part, the death row reform bill has the support of law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, and other justice system groups.

But some inmates used to death row after spending decades behind bars, are anxious about the potential of rejoining the general population of prisoners, the LA Times’ Paige St. John reports. Here’s a clip:

Perry’s worries include being moved from San Quentin, where he has struck up friendships with a college professor and a poet who visit and mentor him in theology and prose. How, he wonders, does that happen if you are a lifer locked away in the north woods at Crescent City’s Pelican Bay?

And he worries that men, “after being here chained up like monkeys and animals in a cage,” will have trouble adjusting to yards where violence is frequent.

“I’ll have to hurt someone,” was the immediate reaction of James Thompson, 64, grizzled and sitting in a tennis-court-size exercise yard. A guard stood overhead with a loaded rifle while a line of aging, heavily tattooed men in white boxer shorts paced in military precision.

On a new yard he will have to “re-establish” himself. After 20 years, Thompson is “comfortable” on East Block.

He is experienced in the differences between death row and ordinary prison. Before he robbed and killed a man in California, Thompson served a long stretch locked up in Texas, also for murder. What rubs him about California is the 20 years his appeal has been in limbo. He agrees with other condemned inmates who favor the ballot proposal to keep the death penalty but speed appeals.

“If you are going to execute me, execute me,” Thompson said. “But if you are going to let me go, let me go.”

Death row experts said states that have repealed the death penalty have successfully absorbed the condemned into their general populations, though in Connecticut, two killers had to be sent to Pennsylvania to ensure their safety.


Under a new House bill employers would be eligible to receive annual tax credits for hiring current and former foster youth.

The Improved Employment Outcomes for Foster Youth Act, introduced Thursday, would grant federal Work Opportunity Tax Credit up to $2,400 per year for employers who hire people between the ages of 18 and 27 who were in foster care on their sixteenth birthday.

If an employer kept a hire from the time the employee was 18 through 26, a total of $21,600 in credits could be claimed.

The bipartisan-supported bill, which was introduced by five members of the House Ways and Means Committee, was inspired by a partnership in California between a non-profit, iFoster, and Raley’s, a grocery chain, which has grown to include a manufacturing company called Mondelez International and Starbucks.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s John Kelly has more on the bill. Here’s a clip:

“We pursued this path and the creation of this bill because when we talked to employers, they were not interested in the subsidized work internships or subsidized employment,” said Serita Cox, the co-founder and executive director of iFoster, who has helped develop the legislation. “Instead, they felt strongly about the tax credit offered to veterans.”

The iFoster program worked with transition-age, kinship and crossover youth ages 16 to 24 in a seven-step program that involves a screening and interview process. iFoster completes a pre-employment phase with a cohort of potential employees before they interview and start working at the company.

“The caliber of the youths and the success they’re having on the job has been tremendous,” said iFoster co-founder Reid Cox. “One of the key issues here is that none of this is trying to offset that these kids are bad employees. It’s just to level the playing field.”

Sean Hughes, a child welfare consultant who helped develop the legislation, said “at least” 100,000 youths and young adults who spent time in foster care would be WOTC eligible. The number might be far higher, based on federal foster care data from 2014.

There were 22,392 exited foster care due to “emancipation” in fiscal 2014, according to federal data. Assuming that is about average, approximately 201,000 workers would be eligible in any year.

Posted in LASD, Uncategorized | 23 Comments »

Discipline for Oakland Officers Involved in Sex Scandal…Rising Number of Defendants Declared Incompetent…and More

September 8th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


On Wednesday, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and City Administrator Sabrina Landreth announced the conclusion of a year-long administrative investigation into a wild sex scandal within the Oakland Police Department, involving a minor.

Four OPD officers will be terminated (if they have not already left the department) and seven OPD officers will be suspended without pay for their roles in the exploitation of the young woman who calls herself Celeste Guap. One officer—who presumably played a lesser role in the scandal than those fired or suspended— will undergo counseling and training.

In June, Guap told a television station that she had sex with more than a dozen OPD officers, three of whom she reportedly had sex with in 2014 while she was 17. After the news broke about the OPD passing around an underage girl for sex, the police chief resigned. Six days later, Schaaf sacked the interim chief. A few days after that, the mayor sacked the second interim chief. Fed up and vowing to weed out “toxic, macho culture,” Schaaf then placed the City Administrator in charge of the OPD. (Backstory: here.)

During the course of the administrative investigation, led by the City Attorney’s Office and several members of the OPD, investigators interviewed 50 witnesses, conducted 11 interviews with Guap, and reviewed 28,000 texts and 78,000 pages of social media posts. There’s also a separate, independent review by a law firm to “ensure the integrity” of the city review.

Landreth said that the four terminated officers had each committed one or more of these offenses: attempted sexual assault, lewd conduct in public, assisting in the crime of prostitution, assisting in the evading arrest for the crime of prostitution, accessing law enforcement databases for personal gain, being untruthful to investigators, failing to report a violation of law or rules by not reporting allegations of officers’ sexual conduct with the underage Guap, and bringing disrepute to the OPD.

And the seven suspended officers committed one or more of the following offenses: failure to report the officer-minor sexual contact, misusing the databases, and bringing disrepute to the department.

The report highlighted the need for more training to help officers identify and assist victims of sex trafficking. In July, the Special Victims Unit teamed up with Bay Area Women Against Rape to teach officers ways they can better respond to people committing trafficking-related offenses and other victims.

The report also found that officers were misusing criminal databases for personal benefit, and recommended stricter oversight moving forward. Officers reportedly leaked information to Guap about prostitution stings and shared police reports and individual criminal records with her.

After announcing the results of the investigation, Mayor Schaaf said she was “deeply sorry”, particularly to communities that already have trust issues with the department.

“We care deeply about this community and its officers and believe that the outcomes in this case will root out misconduct, encourage a culture of transparency and continue the work of restoring trust.”


Mid-year estimates predict that there will be 1000 more defendants declared incompetent to stand trial in Los Angeles County in 2016 than in 2015, according to a draft audit from LA County’s Health Agency commissioned by the county Board of Supervisors.

Mental health competency cases in LA County jumped from 944 in 2010 to 3,528 in 2015. Now, LA appears to be on track to hit 4,500 by the end of 2016.

For defendants who may be too mentally ill to understand the charges against them, defense attorneys can seek a competency hearing. Then, if doctors find a particular defendant to be unfit to stand trial, the defendant must submit to treatment in mental hospitals, residential facilities, or in jail. In California, hundreds of mentally ill inmates declared incompetent to stand trial languish in jails waiting for beds to open up at the five state hospitals who can admit them.

Experts and officials are not sure what’s behind the spike in competency cases.

Dr. Mark Ghaly, director of Community Health & Integrated Programs at the L.A. County Department of Health Services called the surge a “symptom” of the justice system acting as a mental health system.

The report recommends boosting community services for the county’s mentally ill.

KPCC’s Rina Palta has more on the numbers. Here’s a clip:

Between 1995 and 2010, California lost about 30 percent of its psychiatric hospital beds.

In L.A. County, acute inpatient capacity has remained constant, and other less acute residential care has grown slightly, but “not at the rate or capacity needed.”

The trend, the report noted, goes beyond Los Angeles County. Referrals for competency evaluations have increased statewide in Wisconsin, Oregon, Washington, and Colorado. But the report noted that those states did not see the high numbers seen in L.A. County.

Nationally, it said, some 900,000 people “with serious mental illness” are admitted to jails in the United States every year, most of them awaiting trial on various charges. Jails are ill equipped to meet their needs, and they end up getting referred out to mental hospitals through programs designed for restoring mental health to the level where a person can meaningfully participate in their own legal defense.

The vast majority of competency cases are people who’re charged with lower-level nuisance crimes, like vandalism, trespassing and resisting arrest.


A bill to extend the deadline for Proposition 47-eligible Californians to get their low-level felony convictions reclassified as misdemeanors has passed out of both the state Senate and Assembly and landed on Governor Jerry Brown’s desk for final approval. If passed, the bill would give Prop. 47ers seeking to reduce their felony convictions would—upon a showing of good cause—have an extra five years to apply beyond the current November 2017 deadline.

Back in July, the LA County Board of Supervisors approved a recommendation by County CEO Sachi Hamai to allocate $6.6 million from the county’s budget to help approximately 500,000 people with felonies that qualify for reduction to misdemeanors under Proposition 47, but have not yet taken advantage of the retroactive law.

We’ll keep you updated on the status of this bill and other justice-related measures as Gov. Brown progresses through bill-signing season.

Vice’s Rebecca McCray has more on the bill and its importance. Here’s a clip:

“We already have other statutes that don’t have time limits,” David Greenberg, the chief deputy district attorney of San Diego County, told VICE. “Why are we putting a time limit on this?”

The answer, according to Greenberg, is “politics.” He helped draft the amendment, which was ultimately authored by Shirley Weber, an Assembly member. Yet in testament to the state’s evolving attitude toward crime, despite his support for extending the deadline, Greenberg was actually a strong opponent of Prop. 47 from day one—and remains one.

“It took away a lot of options for us,” Greenberg, who argues that prosecutors already used their discretion to reduce certain felonies to misdemeanors, told me.

But when San Diego County Public Defenders office told the DA it would have to file 150 to 250,000 petitions before the November deadline, Greenberg said, he knew the burden on the court and his office would be untenable. In Los Angeles County, which is the largest in the state, the number of petitions would be at least twice that, Greenberg added.

“The vast majority of people have no idea their felonies could be reduced,” he told me. “You would think with all this publicity that those folks who are cleaning their life up and are eligible would be reaching out, but that’s just not the reality.”

That’s where record-change fairs and “reclassification clinics” come in. Organized by advocates and volunteer attorneys, events like the one on the flyer that caught Duncan’s eye have become a vital way to reach Californians who have never heard of Proposition 47.

“The hurdle is really just getting the word out,” said Lenore Anderson, coauthor of Prop. 47 and executive director of Californians for Safety and Justice, a nonprofit that has hosted record change fairs. “Hundreds of thousands of Californians have [eligible] felony record convictions, but a lot of folks are infrequent voters or may not be aware of the law change.”

The above video of the mayor’s press conference was taken by CBS SF.

Posted in Rape, Sex trafficking | 9 Comments »

A Close Look at the Final Five in the Running for LA County Probation Chief

September 7th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

It’s down to five finalists for the critically important position
of chief of Los Angeles County’s embattled Department of Probation, the largest such agency in the nation.

The county’s board of supervisors interviewed some of the final five on Tuesday and will finish interviewing on Wednesday. Then, according to our sources, the board may make its choice as soon as by the end of the week.

The finalists are—in alphabetical order:

Donna Groman, supervising judge of the LA County Juvenile Delinquency Court in South LA
Terri McDonald, former assistant sheriff in charge of LA County’s Jail System
Dave Mitchell, Acting Deputy Chief for Residential Treatment Services for LA County Probation
Sheila Mitchell, former head of Probation for Santa Clara County
Margarita Perez, former Assistant Chief of LA County Probation Field Services operations

As of this past weekend, Terri McDonald and Sheila Mitchell are the front runners. But the Supes are a mercurial lot. Plus, after cycling through 5 probation chiefs in just over 10 years, plus ongoing revelations pointing to the fact that the agency’s problems are still, unfortunately, far from solved, the board knows it needs to get this particular choice right.

We will get to the front-runner issue in a minute. First here are some upsides and downsides on each of the five finalists.

A quick note: As we compiled our list of candidates’ pros and cons, we talked to a varied list of well-placed sources who requested not to be quoted directly at this moment, out of respect for the selection process.


Terri McDonald was in charge of LA County’s massive and troubled jail system during the recent post-scandal period in which a great deal of reform took place.

During her tenure as Assistant Sheriff heading up the custody division for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, McDonald had a reputation as a hands-on administrator who walked the floors of the facilities, talking to staff and to inmates, encouraging everyone—inmates and deputies both— to let her know where they saw problems.

She also already has a good relationship with the board of supervisors, which is a big plus.

McDonald has spent most of her career in the field of adult corrections facilities, beginning as a corrections officer for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and working her way up. When former sheriff Lee Baca recruited her to come to the sheriff’s department in March 2013, after the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence issued its scathing report in Sept 2012, she had spent 24 years with the CDCR. How well that experience translates to what will be required at probation, which is different than an agency concerned purely with custody, is not clear.

On one hand, McDonald is definitely reform minded, and has broad experience instituting reform in the state’s prison system, in addition to what she has accomplished in LA County.

“I was raised by lifers,” McDonald once told us of her tenure at the CDCR, which we took to mean that inmates had taught her a great deal that was of value and formative. This same POV was evidenced in the way she interacted with jail inmates, whether they were locked-up on something minor, or had just been adjudicated on a serious criminal case, and were waiting to be shipped to state prison: McDonald offered basic respect to the jail inmates in the county’s care whom she encountered, and expected respect in return, and generally got it. As a consequence, she made the LA County jail system more humane, both for inmates and staff.

Yet, certain distressing problems, while lessened, still remain in the county’s jails. Extravagant uses of force went down, but inmate attacks on deputies went up, as did lower level uses of force by deputies. And there were the “tethering’ incidents. Some line staff blamed what they felt were unclear policies.

Those who question whether McDonald is the ideal fit to head the county’s probation agency, point to the fact that the supervisors have been saying for months that redefining LA County’s juvenile system to focus on rehabilitation and effective treatment, not behavior control and punishment, is job one, and will be the issue topmost in the board’s collective mind when they are choosing a new chief.

McDonald has scant experience in the juvenile field. So while she has obvious skill and breadth of experience on the adult side of things, some of those whom we spoke with asked if she can be the transformative leader so sorely needed when it comes to kids under the county’s supervision. Maybe she can. But the question needs to be asked.

Moreover, some justice advocates point out that when McDonald was reforming the jails, she had help in the form of a looming federal consent decree, the ACLU’s giant Rosas lawsuit—the settlement of which, forced certain changes—and the 197 pages of criticisms and recommendations from the CCJV, which the board—and the new sheriff, Jim McDonald—wanted instituted.

At probation, the new chief—whether it is McDonald or someone else-–will, at this point, have no such legal instruments that she—or he— can use as levers to counter the inevitable resistance that accompanies any systemic change—although, with any luck, there will be an oversight body soon created that will help a new chief drive reform. (More on that at another time.)

As KPCC’s Rina Palta pointed out when McDonald was first hired at the LASD, her former boss, Matt Cate, at the CDCR described her as a highly ethical administrator who “does not suffer fools well.” All this is very good—or can be.

Yet, whoever becomes chief is going to have to deal with the county’s labor unions, without either alienating their hard-working members, as former Chief Jerry Powers did with calamitous results, or being mowed down in every disagreement with union leadership, as was the case with Powers’ predecessor, Donald Blevins.

At the same time, according to those close to the department, there are some problematic players in leadership positions in probation, along with pockets of toxic culture that have been allowed to remain among the staff. Whoever is selected to lead the organization will need to have the clarity, guts, and management skill to successfully roll the necessary heads.

Is Terri McDonald that person? And can she also provide the necessary leadership on the juvenile side? Again, these questions are among those that must be answered before the board should move ahead with its selection.


Sheila Mitchell is considered a juvenile justice hero by many because of the notable reform she instituted as chief of probation in Santa Clara County on the juvenile side of the agency she ran for nearly ten years.

Although Santa Clara is obviously much smaller than LA County, the department that Mitchell took over in 2004 was reportedly a hot mess, strongly emphasizing punishment over anything that resembled rehabilitation on the adult and the juvenile side. The DOJ was investigating the department’s juvenile hall for alleged civil rights violations, there were dozens of reports of “staff-inflicted injuries” in the place, and the place had turned into a lawsuit factory.

When Mitchell left her post as Santa Clara’s chief, the county’s main juvenile facility, the William F. James Ranch, was considered the state’s most innovative and highly successful residential program for kids, which used as its inspiration the nationally lauded “Missouri model.” Whereas, for the first 50 years of its life, the James Ranch had been focused only on behavior control.

Plus under Mitchell, probation made good use of community alternatives—like a well run treatment-oriented day center—to keep kids out of residential facilities altogether, and dramatically lower recidivism rates.

In addition, Mitchell and those she put in top positions, managed to work with the county’s unions in such a way that a highly problematic staff culture in juvenile probation was able to be substantively transformed to the point that the James Ranch was being run by treatment-oriented, kid-centered staff members, not guards.

On the adult side of probation, Mitchell instituted such system changes as improving education outcomes for Santa Clara County adult probationers and parolees, thus easing their successful transition back into their communities.

But, could Mitchell’s Santa Clara experience apply to LA County’s huge, troubled and complicated probation goliath? (She was Assistant Chief Probation Officer at Alameda County probation, the state’s closest analogue to LA, and prior to that she was the Deputy Commissioner for the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice, all of which should help.)

Moreover, does Mitchell really want the job? Since she retired from Santa Clara’s top spot in 2013, she has consulted with various probation departments, (which she has been doing for LA County’s Camp Kilpatrick project, which like Santa Clara’s James Ranch, aims to create its own treatment focused, “trauma-informed” model). Then in April of this year, she took the job of Chief Operating Office for an agency called Unity Care, which provides services for “at‐risk and foster youth.”

The Unity Care experience has reportedly imbued Mitchell still more insight and fervor to help fundamentally change the way we deal with the kids who wind up in our various county systems.

Yet, according to some well-placed sources, Mitchell may not be sure if she wants to jump back into an all-consuming situation that leading LA County Probation would require. And there have been doubts about whether she’d be willing to relocate to Los Angeles.

Is that true? If so, has it changed? Is she now all in? Getting those questions answered will be important part of the Supes selection task.


Dave Mitchell’s supporters contend that, save interim probation chief Cal Remington, Mitchell is the person in the high echelon’ of the probation department who is most committed to and best understands juvenile reform.

According to those who have worked with him, Mitchell is intelligent, highly capable, cares very much about kids, and knows a great deal about the problems that need to be solved in the agency, particularly in the juvenile realm.

Yet those who are rooting for one of the other four candidates suggest that, while Dave Mitchell is likely someone to groom to be chief in the future, he may not have the ideal experience to move into the top spot just yet, but that he is one of the people most necessary to a new leadership mix, to help take the department in a new and healthier direction.


Margarita Perez was recruited by former probation chief Jerry Powers to leave her position in state parole and come to Los Angeles to head up probation’s new responsibilities as the agency was tasked with overseeing men and women who, through state legislation known as AB109, suddenly landed on the county’s doorstep instead of that of the state, as part of California’s prison realignment strategy, which began in October 2011, a few months before Powers was sworn in as chief.

Before she retired last year, Perez was generally well respected inside the department by the rank and file, who saw her as someone unafraid to put on a flack vest, and get her hands dirty, so to speak, in order find out how the folks working the front lines were doing.

She is also viewed by many as a talented and respected administrator and supervisor who is firmly reform-minded on the adult side of probation. They point to her emphasis on rehabilitative services designed to help probationers do better when they reenter their communities, with the idea of lowering return trips to jail or prison.

By the way, Perez was selected to serve as chief briefly (after Jerry Powers “retired” under a cloud) until interim chief Cal Remington could free his schedule and take over the reins.

Although Perez was hired by Powers, when she left the department she reportedly wrote a sober-minded, no-punches-pulled exit letter about what was wrong at the agency, and who inside it had to go if it was to move forward toward health.

Those who do not favor Perez for the job of chief, point to her lack of any experience on the juvenile side of things, which is in desperate need of a visionary leader. Also, as is the case with Dave Mitchell, this is a moment when anybody promoted from within is going to be a tough sale.


Judge Donna Groman, is the supervising judge of the Los Angeles County Juvenile Delinquency Court at the Kenyon Juvenile Justice Center in South LA. Groman was named the California Judges Association Juvenile Court Judge of the Year for 2012, and is a very well-regarded as a jurist who cares very much about the well being of the kids who pass through her courtroom, and through the juvenile system generally.

For instance, Groman is known for making sure that planning for the future is a big part of managing each kid’s case that comes before her, which means assessing things such as a kids’ behavioral and mental health needs, along with educational needs, and other basic issues that must be in place if a kid is to thrive after he or she leaves a probation facility.

Groman has also been an important advocate for such issues as school discipline reform, pushing for kids to be kept in school rather than cited and/or suspended for such minor school-related infractions as tardiness, or truancy. In addition, she been a strong and effective voice for reforming the role that school police play on campus, for the treatment of sexually trafficked children, restorative justice, and for extended foster care and independent living services for youth aging out of the foster care system.

Yet, the role of chief is an administrative position. So is Groman’s experience on the bench, as an attorney, and as an effective juvenile reform advocate enough to make her the right candidate to run a law enforcement agency of the size and complexity of LA County probation, which has more than ‪6500 employees—ninety percent of whom are sworn peace officers—and supervises ‪12,000 state parolees, 60,000 adult probationers, and around 2,800 kids, either in its various facilities or in home placement, all on a budget of $830 million?

Well, maybe so. But, this is yet another question that the supervisors need to carefully consider of Groman and every other candidate as the board moves forward with its selection process.

So stay tuned.


Jeremy Loudenback, writing for the Chronicle of Social Change, first broke the story that Sheila Mitchell and Terri McDonald were among the top five being considered. Then we ferretted out the rest of the list, plus who was supporting whom. We recommend you read Loudenback’s informative story, plus this story in WLA he wrote earlier in the process that was adapted from a still earlier story produced for CSC.

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