Sunday, August 30, 2015
street news, views and stories of justice and injustice
Follow me on Twitter

Search WitnessLA:

Recent Posts

Categories

Archives

Blogs We Like

LA Connections

Points of Interest

The BlogFather

Meta

Daily Reports


School Achievement and the Unmentionable “I” Word

August 10th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


The achievement gap between white students and minority students
narrowed by nearly 20 points during the height of school desegregation. In more recent years, however, the fissure has once again widened. During the heyday of No Child Left Behind a plethora of methods were tried to once again narrow the educational disparity affecting so many minority children. But, with certain notable exceptions, in general, most of the strategies failed to consistently produce the needed progress.

A report released last year by the Department of Education noted dourly that, 60 years after Brown v. the Board of Education, the disparity in allocation of educational resources was exacerbating the “achievement and opportunity gap,” rather than remedying it: Black and Latino children are the least likely to be taught by a qualified, experienced teacher, noted Catherine Lhamon, the Assistant Secretary of Civil Rights for the DOE, in a letter. They are also the least likely to get access to AP courses or such college-prep courses as chemistry and calculus, to have gifted and talented programs in their school, or to have access to technology or such education niceties as science labs.

What the Assistant Secretary did not say is that it turns out there is one strategy that has been proven to invariably make the stubborn achievement gap—along with the resource gap—grow smaller. It is, however, a strategy that it is very unfashionable mention—namely school integration.

With this thorny problem in mind, This American Life has produced a a two-part series on education reform that should be mandatory listening. It doesn’t prescribe what we ought to do to improve the minority/white gap in our nation’s schools, but it lays down some interesting facts that bear discussion.

In Part 1, which aired last week, reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones delves into the issue that Lhamon, of the U.S. Department of Education, pointed to unequivocally. “American schools are disturbingly racially segregated, period,” Lhamon said.

in the course of her exploration, Hannah-Jones tells the story of a school district in Missouri, which accidentally ended up integrating—at least for a while. And how it turned out.

In Part 2, which aired this past weekend, producer Chana Joffe-Walt reports on the Hartford, CT, school district, which actively tried to integrate its schools. The challenge was to convince white families that it was to their advantage to go to integrated schools. What happened may surprise you.

The show then follows producer Joffe-Walt as she interviews the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan on the topic of integration and student achievement.

Both shows are informative, disturbing and hopeful—and loaded with good storytelling.

Don’t miss them.


The painting above is, of course, by Norman Rockwell. It is his famous, “The Problem We All Live,” painted in 1964 to depict Ruby Bridges, a six-year-old African-American girl, on her way into an all-white public school in New Orleans on November 14, 1960.

Posted in Education, race, race and class, racial justice | 2 Comments »

Juvie Solitary Confinement, College in Prison, Alleged Boot Camp Abusers Arrested, and Kelly Thomas’ Death Violated Police Policy

August 7th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

A BIPARTISAN PUSH TO BAN THE PSYCHOLOGICALLY HARMFUL USE OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT ON KIDS LOCKED UP IN FEDERAL FACILITIES

On Wednesday, Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced a bipartisan bill to end solitary confinement for kids in pretrial facilities and juvenile detention facilities.

The Maintaining dignity and Eliminating unnecessary Restrictive Confinement of Youths Act of 2015 (MERCY) is cosponsored Rand Paul (R-KY), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Mike Lee (R-UT).

Specifically, the bill would ban solitary confinement except as a temporary placement when a kid poses a serious threat to themselves or others and after less restrictive methods (like deescalation techniques and meeting with a mental health professional) had been tried.

The bill would also require facility staff to explain to a confined kid why they have been placed in isolation, and that they will be released after they have calmed down or after a specific amount of time. And the isolation of kids believed to pose a risk to others would be limited to three hours (thirty minutes for kids who pose a risk to themselves).

“Not only is solitary confinement cruel and demeaning, it’s a violation of one’s human dignity,” said Sen. Booker. “When imposed on adolescents, it can cause serious long-term psychological and physical harm.”

Noting the increased risk of depression and suicide for kids locked in solitary confinement, Sen. Durbin said, “I am glad to join Senators Booker, Paul and Lee in introducing this legislation and look forward to working with them as we consider how to fundamentally reform our approach to this controversial practice.”


PROGRAM TAKES COMMUNITY COLLEGE TO CALIFORNIA PRISONERS

Four community colleges are launching classes inside nearby California state prisons as part of an 18-month, $2 million pilot program starting this fall.

The colleges will offer between two and three business-related classes each semester, through which inmates will have the opportunity to earn an associates degree in liberal arts.

Lassen College will hold classes at High Desert State Prison, Folsom Lake College at Folsom Women’s Facility, Antelope Valley College at California State Prison, Los Angeles County, and Chaffey College at California Institution for Women.

The push for education in prisons is also happening on the federal level. Last week, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and US Attorney General Loretta Lynch revealed a pilot program to give federal Pell Grants—college grants for low-income students—to thousands of prisoners, reversing a 22-year ban on giving such grants to inmates.

The LA Times’ Carla Rivera has more on the program. Here’s a clip:

The state also has been moving to boost education access for inmates, after a 2014 law that allowed community colleges to receive the same level of state funding for educating students behind prison walls as they do for students on college campuses.

The legislation called for collaboration between prison and community college officials to provide college instruction, resulting in a $2 million, 18-month pilot program launching this fall…

“Part of the proposal was to look for innovative programs that are not only face-to-face but offer a full student experience of orientation, advising, counseling,” said BJ Snowden, director of inmate education in the community college chancellor’s office. “We want this to be a sustainable and replicable model with real goals.”

One of the state’s most successful prison education programs, the Prison University Project, will provide training for community college faculty.

The privately-funded project operates at San Quentin and was founded after inmates lost Pell eligibility. Instructors come from the faculty ranks at UC Berkeley, Stanford and San Francisco State University, said executive director Jody Lewen.

Obama’s Pell grant initiative could greatly aid programs like hers, Lewen said, providing it is focused on offering a quality education.

“It could be fantastic, but if we allow institutions to come in and do it as cheap as possible with little investment, it will be garbage,” Lewen said. “It will be one of those things in the prison system that’s called better than nothing.”


LA-AREA OFFICERS ARRESTED IN CONNECTION WITH ALLEGED ABUSE AT SAN LUIS OBISPO BOOT CAMP FOR TEENS

Four Los Angeles-area officers were arrested this week in connection with alleged abuse of kids participating in a boot camp called Leadership Empowerment and Discipline (LEAD) in San Luis Obispo.

Investigators identified fifteen kids who said they were victims of abuse at the hands of the officers leading the camp.

The program, which purportedly teaches discipline and leadership to 12 to 16-year-olds, ran for 20 weeks, seven days of which were spent at Camp San Luis Obispo, an Army National Guard base. The kids said that officers, especially the two men known as “the Gomez brothers,” verbally and physically abused and threatened them.

The program leaders would take the kids into a “dark room,” where the they would hold them against the wall by their necks, and punch them in the sides, stomach, ribs, and face, according to Gregory Owen, the attorney representing the children’s families. One boy allegedly suffered broken fingers after an officer stepped on his hand.

Marissa Larios and Patrick Nijland of the Huntington Park Police Department, and brothers Carlos Gomez-Marquez and Edgar Gomez of the South Gate Police Department were each arrested and released on $20,000 bail.

In June, at least two of the officers, the Gomez brothers, were still on patrol despite being subjects of investigation.

Here’s a clip from the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Department:

After a two month investigation which involved interviewing 37 participants at the camp, Sheriff’s Detectives were able to identify 15 male and female victims ranging in age from 12 to 17 years old who claimed they were assaulted by the drill instructors while at the camp….

Gomez and Gomez-Marquez were arrested on the following five charges: 1. Willful cruelty to a child (felony), 2. Criminal threats (felony), 3. Criminal conspiracy (felony), 4. Criminal battery (misdemeanor), 5. Abuse under color of authority (misdemeanor).

Larios was arrested on four charges: 1. Willful cruelty to a child (felony), 2. Criminal conspiracy (felony), 3. Criminal battery (misdemeanor), 4. Abuse under color of authority (misdemeanor)

Nijland was arrested for: 1. Willful cruelty to a child (felony), 2. Criminal battery (misdemeanor), 3. Abuse under color of authority (misdemeanor).

All charges will be filed with the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office.

KTLA’s Kennedy Ryan and Eric Spillman have more on the arrests.


JUST-REVEALED INDEPENDENT REPORT SAYS FULLERTON COPS ACTED OUTSIDE OF DEPARTMENT POLICY IN BEATING DEATH OF KELLY THOMAS

Three former Fullerton police officers, Jay Cicinelli, Manuel Ramos, and Joseph Wolfe, violated department policy when they beat Kelly Thomas, a schizophrenic homeless man, to death (while he screamed for his father), according to an independent report released as part of a civil lawsuit.

KPCC’s Erika Aguilar has the story. Here’s a clip:

Former Corporal Jay Cicinelli violated the Fullerton Police Department’s deadly force policy when he kneed 37-year-old Kelly Thomas in the head twice and beat him in the face with his Taser “multiple times” on July 5, 2011, according to the report by independent auditors. The incident was caught on street surveillance video.

Former officers Manuel Ramos and Joseph Wolfe violated the department’s use of force policy when they used their body weight to subdue and arrest Thomas, the report said.

Thomas died five days after the beating. The coroner’s report determined Thomas died as a result of mechanical chest compressions and cranial-facial injuries.

“Ramos’ weight and the body weight of other responding officers on Thomas may have been partially responsible for Thomas’ ultimate demise,” according to the report. It used similar language for Wolfe.

In January 2014, an Orange County jury acquitted Ramos and Cicinelli, and the charges against Wolfe were later dropped. All three are still fighting to get their jobs back after being terminated.

Posted in CDCR, Education, juvenile justice, Police | 2 Comments »

Far-Reaching DOJ Settlement With LA County Sheriff’s Department to Trigger Major Jail Reform

August 6th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



The long-expected settlement between the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department
and the U.S. Department of Justice was officially announced Wednesday morning at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in downtown LA.

The settlement concerns the failure to provide a safe, appropriately monitored, non-abusive environment, including “adequate mental health services,” for the mentally ill in the LA County’s long-troubled jails. It is the culmination of two DOJ investigations that span what is now 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.”

Now, 19 years later, those investigations have resulted in a lawsuit that was filed in federal court, also on Wednesday, in which the DOJ alleges that indeed the County of Los Angeles “deprived” inmates in its jails of “rights, privileges or immunities” protected by the Constitution of the United States.”

Wednesday’s settlement is an agreement in lieu of the feds’ legal complaint going forward. The agreement required a stamp of approval by the LA County Board of Supervisors, who did the requisite stamping in a closed door meeting on Tuesday afternoon.

U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Deckerhich said in a statement she hopes the settlement helps the county avoid “protracted litigation” and “provides a blueprint for durable reform.”

For the most part, however the tone at the press conference was cooperative and non-adversarial. For instance, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Mark Kappelhoff made a point of reaching out to deputies and others working in the jails, whom he thanked as “dedicated professionals…. who are in the front lines at the jails every day. Their efforts are critical to the long-term success of this agreement…”


SO WHAT EXACTLY IS IN THE SETTLEMENT?

The agreement spells out in detail the series of marks that the department needs to hit within the next year, if it wants to stay out of legal hot water. It includes sections on new “scenario-based” training for LASD staff, suicide risk procedures, appropriate data gathering, the use of restraints, use of force and more. The settlement also delves deeply into what kind of review procedures should kick in within the department, if and when things go wrong—in other words, if there is a suicide, attempted self harm, or a “critical incident.”

As to how the settlement actually works: if the department fails to hit the agreed upon marks specified, the federal judge in charge of the settlement can step in and institute penalties—i.e. the oversight period can be extended. The department’s progress will be overseen most closely by an independent monitor, who will also have the help of a small team of “content experts.”

Attorney Richard Drooyan was named as the monitor. As a former head of the Los Angeles police commission, a former chief assistant U.S. attorney and—most relevantly—the general counsel for the Citizen’s Commission for Jail Violence—Drooyan is considered to be an excellent choice. Plus, due to their time spent together on the CCJV, he is someone with whom Sheriff McDonnell already has a good and established relationship.


THE SHERIFF PICKS UP THE TOOL

The sheriff seems genuinely to welcome the agreement, which he described a “…comprehensive approach to reform” that he and the department’s custody leadership “fully embrace.”

McDonnell also rightly sees the 60-page document as a useful tool that—as he told radio host Warren Olney Wednesday on KCRW’s Which Way LA?—will give him the needed leverage “to get the resources necessary,” to accomplish long lasting reform.

When asked about the personnel training that the settlement requires, McDonnell quickly gave what he said was a representative example of why it was badly needed. “We teach deputies in the academy to be assertive, to raise your voice where appropriate…” but, he said, “if you do that with someone with autism, that is exactly the wrong thing to do, it sets someone off” and you end up in a confrontation that could have been avoided.

In a letter sent to department members, McDonnell was similarly upbeat about the potential positive effects of the deal with the feds, describing the agreement as an opportunity.

Even prior to the agreement, he wrote, the department had already been able to use requirements contained in the coming settlement to make needed changes and put in place additional resources—with, of course, the fiscal support of the board of supervisors. Those changes included:


· 500 additional LASD personnel
. Over 160 additional DMH personnel
· Multiple jail modifications to reduce suicide risks
· More frequent safety checks
· Additional cleaning crews
· Increased training opportunities for interaction with the mentally ill
· Enhanced inmate assessments and additional treatment
· Drug treatment and community re-entry planning
· Additional out of cell therapy and recreation time

“You are part of an historic time for the LASD,” McDonnell wrote, “and this agreement will establish us as being on the leading edge of modern correctional systems. While I have always said I welcome outside eyes on the Department, this will continue to be a collaborative process, and one that we will accomplish together, as a team.”


THE BAD OLD DAYS

So, if things have improved, how how bad were they before?

Actually, really bad—at least in certain quarters.

As recently as four years ago, the LA Times reported the story about a young deputy, an “honor recruit” who was a standout at the academy, was allegedly forced to beat up a mentally ill inmate, then to participate in a cover up. According to the LA Times’ Robert Faturechi, the deputy, Joshua Sather, “said that shortly before the inmate’s beating his supervisor said, ‘We’re gonna go in and teach this guy a lesson,” according to the records.” The attack, according to Sather, was then covered up.”

By the way, reportedly no one was disciplined over the whole mess.

Many of the worst examples of the kind of conduct that brought on the law suit and the settlement have to do with the mishandling and/or neglect of suicidal inmates, too often resulting in tragic and unnecessary inmate deaths, such as the death of 22-year-old John Horton, whose suicide in Men’s Central Jail we wrote about in 2009.

And, although the DOJ admits that there has been much laudable reform, there are more recent incidents, like the circumstances last month that led the sheriff to relieve 10 department members of duty after learning that an inmate who had displayed “suicidal ideation,” and was believed to have other mental problems, had reportedly been in some kind of restraints for 32 hours without being fed or given more than a cup of water, after head-butting or pushing a female deputy causing her to sustain a concussion.


IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT THE MENTALLY ILL

The settlement also makes it very clear that, while most of the reforms it requires have to do with the treatment of the mentally ill, the DOJ is equally concerned with the treatment—or more properly mistreatment—of inmates in general, such as the abuse of a jail visitor that resulted in the recent conviction of three former department members, and the plea deals for two others.

In that regard, the settlement points to the ACLU’s massive class action lawsuit, Rosas v. Baca, that was settled earlier this year, known as the Rosas agreement.

The lawsuit, originally filed in 2012, alleged that then Sheriff Lee Baca and his top staff condoned a long-standing and widespread pattern of violence and abuse by deputies of inmates in the county’s jails. The suit was brought in the name of Alex Rosas and Jonathan Goodwin who, according to the complaint, “were savagely beaten and threatened with violence by deputies of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.” Rosas and Goodwin were only two of the dozens of inmates whose reported abuse was described in the complaint.

The Rosas settlement, like the DOJ settlement, resulted in a roadmap for reform, complete with required goals, the accomplishment of which, is to be overseen by three independent monitors, and enforced by a federal judge who can find the department in contempt.

Wednesday’s DOJ settlement repeatedly mentions the Rosas agreement, suggesting that it is filling in what Rosas didn’t cover: “…this Agreement addresses remaining allegations concerning suicide prevention and mental health care at the Jails…”

Peter Eliasberg, the Southern California ACLU’s legal director, and the prime mover behind Rosas, was very heartened by the DOJ settlement. “For far too long, the County Board of Supervisors turned a blind eye to evidence of savage abuse by deputies and failure to provide even minimally adequate treatment to inmates with mental illness, even after presented with 2008 and 2010 ACLU reports that specifically outlined many of the same problems this agreement seeks to fix.” This oversight, he said, along with the Rosas agreement…”will finally bring much needed change to the nation’s largest jail system.”

At the press conference, McDonnell expressed similar sentiments, but understandibly gave them a slightly more buoyant spin. “This is our collective opportunity,” he said, “to be on the leading edge of reform and to serve as a model for the nation.”

We genuinely hope so.

Posted in Department of Justice, Jim McDonnell, LA County Jail, LASD | 24 Comments »

WitnessLA on KCRW’s Press Play With Madeleine Brand Talking About the Ins & Outs of the LASD/DOJ Settlement

August 6th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



On Wednesday, I was on KCRW’s news talk show, Press Play,
with the always excellent Madeleine Brand. We discussed some of the details of the newly signed agreement between the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and the Department of Justice regarding treatment of the mentally ill in the LA County Jail system.

You can listen to our conversation here.

(And, yes, I know that I cheerily stated near the end of the interview that Sheriff McDonnell was formerly the Assistant Sheriff of the LAPD under Bill Bratton. Perhaps more coffee would have prevented that bobbling of titles. Perhaps less coffee was the key. Hard to say.)

PS: Later on Wednesday, I was on another KCRW show with afternoon news anchor, Steve Chiotaki. During that show Merlin-the-cat, who was sitting nearby as I talked, suddenly made an unscheduled, but very audible, comment. It was that kind of day.

Posted in LASD, U.S. Attorney | No Comments »

Thousands of CA’s Disenfranchised Will Soon Gain Voting Rights, LA Supes Hear Reports on Mental Health Diversion and Jail Building, and 20-Year Interviews in Solitary

August 5th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

CA SECRETARY OF STATE MOVES TO END FELONY DISENFRANCHISEMENT OF THOUSANDS OF AB 109′ERS UNDER COUNTY SUPERVISION

On Tuesday, two days before the 50th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla announced that voting rights would be restored to thousands with felony convictions under county supervision through Realignment.

(If you need a refresher: California’s Public Safety Realignment, which went into effect in October of 2011, shifted the incarceration and supervision burden for certain low-level offenders away from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to the states’ 58 counties.)

Sec. of State Padilla’s move is a reversal of a decision his predecessor, Debra Bowen, made to disenfranchise realignment probationers. Before Bowen’s move, only people with felonies who were still incarcerated or who were on state parole were barred from voting.

Last year, Alameda County Judge Evelio Grillo ruled against Bowen’s 2011 removal of voting rights. By the time Bowen was leaving office she had appealed Grillo’s decision. Padilla, who inherited the appeal, chose to drop the challenge, saying, “Civic engagement and participation in the election process can be an important factor helping former offenders reintegrate into civil society.”

“If we are serious about slowing the revolving door at our jails and prisons, and serious about reducing recidivism,” Padilla continued, “We need to engage—not shun—former-offenders.”


LA DISTRICT ATTORNEY JACKIE LACEY PRESENTS MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSION PLAN TO SUPES

On Tuesday, at the LA County Board of Supervisors meeting, LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey presented a report detailing a plan to divert mentally ill offenders from county jails into community treatment.

“We have some resources, we have some diversion occurring, but it’s simply not to the scale that we need to do it,” said DA Lacey.

The most imperative part of the plan is implementing major mental health crisis training for law enforcement, but Lacey also wants to add more urgent cares where officers can bring people in crisis, as well as launch a specialized housing program.

Too many of our low-level offenders leave jail in worse shape than if their behavior was addressed in treatment,” said LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell. “Our jails simply were not built as treatment centers or with long-term treatment in mind.”

Lacey also stressed the importance of interagency communication (for instance, between the Department of Mental Health and the sheriff’s department) through a central data system, and adding more co-deployed teams of officers and clinicians to better serve the needs of people in the midst of a mental health emergency.

WLA previously posted about Lacey’s diversion report. Read more about it here.

LA County’s interim CEO Sachi Hamai presented her own report to the board–a fiscal review of the DA’s mental health diversion plan. The report breaks down estimated costs for each of Lacey’s 29 recommendations

So far, $30 million has been set aside for diversion efforts, and the CEO estimates a total implementation cost of $83,574,841.

According to the CEO’s report, the board should made a decision by at least August 17, so as not to lose state funding for a proposed $100 million renovation of a Mira Loma detention facility to accommodate female prisoners.


CONSULTING FIRM GIVES INTERESTING REPORT ON MEN’S CENTRAL JAIL REPLACEMENT PLAN

Another important issue before the LA County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday came in the form of a report from Health Management Associates explaining to the board what kind of population needs to be accommodated by a new jail, while taking into consideration Prop. 47, mental health diversion, and other major factors.

The report recommends the Men’s Central Jail replacement have a 4,600 to 5,060 bed capacity, a range very similar to the capacity of a jail plan tabled by the Supes last month in order to explore the feasibility of a smaller jail. If the county does not move forward on the diversion initiatives, the jail will need to hold 6,773 inmates, according to the report.

HMA predicts jail population growth, from 17,000 to 21,599 in the next 10 years, despite successful efforts to lower the population via things like split-sentencing and the passage of Prop 47—which reclassified certain non-serious felony offenses as misdemeanors.

The LA Daily News’ Sarah Favot has more on the report. Here’s a clip:

By 2025, 4,600 to 5,060 beds will be needed in the new facility for inmates who require medical and mental health care if the county pursues its current diversion and community treatment initiatives. If the county does not dedicate those resources, 6,773 beds will be needed to house a mentally stressed population by 2025, the consultants from Health Management Associates projected.

Drastic measures are needed to avoid violating the civil rights of inmates, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said.

“The current state of the jails in the County of Los Angeles strikes a note of unconstitutionality and a violation of civil rights,” Ridley-Thomas said. “To the extent that this the case, the status quo cannot be and will not be tolerated. Therefore, what is before us is how to uphold public safety and make sure those who require incarceration are incarcerated without the violation of their rights.”

Finding other facilities outside of the jails to house mentally ill inmates could open space to treat high-risk inmates with substance abuse issues, Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald said.

Based on county population projections and sentencing trends, the consultants estimated that the total jail population will grow to more than 21,000 by 2025. There are about 17,900 inmates currently within the county’s eight jail facilities, and about 3,500 of those inmates have some form of mental illness.

The percentage of inmates who require medical and mental health treatment is projected to grow from about 20 percent in 2015 to about 34 percent in 2035, the consultants said.

The supervisors will likely vote on the jail plan next week since the construction of the proposed jail is tied to the construction of a new women’s jail at Mira Loma Detention Center. The county is applying for a $100 million state grant for the Mira Loma Detention Center plan, which has an Aug. 17 deadline, according to the county interim CEO.


A VERY HUMAN LOOK AT THE PSYCHOLOGICAL EFFECTS OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT

In 1993 a social psychologist named Craig Haney conducted interviews with prisoners locked in solitary confinement in Pelican Bay State Prison. Dr. Haney’s aim was to study the psychological effects of isolation.

When Dr. Haney came back two decades later for more interviews, he was shocked to find some of the same inmates still in solitary confinement. They had spent 20 years in windowless boxes away from other humans. Haney interviewed dozens of inmates who had spent between 10-28 years in isolation as part of a report for a class action lawsuit filed by Pelican Bay inmates challenging the prison’s use of solitary confinement.

Because most researchers have used either test subjects or inmates who have not been in solitary for very long, Haney’s interviews provide a rare look into what happens to a person who is isolated for years.

The New York Times’ Erica Goode has more on Dr. Haney’s interviews and findings. Here’s a clip:

…the inmates, Dr. Haney found, still had many of the same symptoms. “The passage of time had not significantly ameliorated their pain,” he wrote.

For comparison, Dr. Haney also interviewed 25 randomly selected maximum-security inmates at Pelican Bay who were not in solitary confinement.

While 63 percent of the men in solitary for more than 10 years said they felt close to an “impending breakdown,” only 4 percent of the maximum-security inmates reported feeling that way.

Similarly, among the prisoners in isolation, 73 percent reported chronic depression and 78 percent said they felt emotionally flat, compared with 48 percent and 36 percent among the maximum-security inmates.

In depositions prepared for the Pelican Bay lawsuit, the inmates in long-term solitary also described having anxiety, paranoia, perceptual disturbances and deep depression.

One plaintiff, Mr. Reyes,said he had severe insomnia and that in the silence of the isolation unit, he sometimes heard a voice calling his name and cell number. Other times, he said, “I just see spots, just little things move.”

Mr. Redd, said that his dreams were often violent but that they became that way only after coming to Pelican Bay.

“I didn’t even have dreams,” he said. “I didn’t even have thoughts of looking up at the top of my bunk and you see cracks on the bunk and say, ‘Hey, man, if they got a little earthquake, this wall, this top bunk is going to fall down on you.’ You know, you start getting a little nervous thing.”

Locked in his cell, Mr. Redd said, he often plunged into despair.

“It’s not to the point where you want to commit suicide,” he said, “but sometimes, I’m at the point that I’d be wanting to write the judge and say, ‘Just give me the death penalty. Just give me the death penalty, man.’ ”

Posted in Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, mental health | No Comments »

Screening ACEs in New Places, Salinas High Cuts Suspensions by 70%, and Wolves

August 4th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

USING THE ADVERSE CHILDHOOD EXPERIENCES QUESTIONNAIRE AS A SCREENING TOOL IN NON-MEDICAL SETTINGS IS…COMPLICATED

The 1997 Adverse Childhood Experiences study, by Vincent Felitti and Robert Anda, examined the long-term health effects trauma (ACEs)—like abuse, neglect, and divorce—have on kids.

The study includes an ACEs screening questionnaire, which has become the benchmark for measuring childhood trauma. The quiz produces an ACEs score based upon how many times a person answers “yes” to the ten questions.

As the use of the ACEs test spreads from its original pediatrics setting, to schools and the juvenile justice system, some say unintended complications will undoubtedly arise.

Major training is required before an ACEs screening system can be implemented, according to experts. And schools and juvenile facilities have to be careful about what questions they ask kids because of mandatory reporting laws. Problems can arise if a child answers “yes” to the abuse-related questions, for instance, and the test administrator isn’t trained to do further appropriate questioning, but follows the mandatory reporting laws requiring the involvement of child protective services. This would likely result in the unnecessary splitting up of families if there has been a bad experience or bad conditions in the home, but the family is otherwise loving and reasonably stable.

Some of the questions can be tweaked and posed to parents, however, to get more of an overview of a child’s wellbeing while staying away from the questions that trigger mandatory reporting.

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

“Before you ask these [ACEs] questions, you have to have a plan of action when the answer is yes,” said Blodgett. “Screening for trauma is more dicey where you get into education settings, where there’s a big conversation around this right now.”

“Most schools don’t have the capacity to figure out how to respond if there are identified ACEs,” he said. “These systems weren’t designed as identification and treatment systems. That’s when issues about potentially increased reporting become much more serious.”

For Robert Anda, a co-author of the influential 1997 ACEs study, the ACEs questionnaire is more about taking a public health approach than a tool for mandatory reporting. In screening parents, he suggests that other measures could be developed to measure risk of maltreatment without compelling pediatricians to turn to child protective services.

“ACEs can be measured safely in parents to give you an index of what may be a risk for the parents and the whole family and the child,” said Anda in an interview The Chronicle of Social Change at the One Child, Many Hands conference earlier this year at the University of Pennsylvania. “You can get other indirect measures that aren’t going to [lead to] mandatory reporting, including, I think, measuring some of the developmental functions as a proxy and stay away from the mandatory reporting.”

“We have to dig deeper and say ‘what’s going on,’ before making a decision about adjudication.”

The Center for Youth Wellness has spearheaded the use of ACEs screening tools in its pediatric clinic in the Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood of San Francisco. The California Department of Justice has looked toward the center as a model in creating its statewide trauma screening efforts, according to staff in the office of California Attorney General Harris.

The center uses the 10 questions from the original ACEs study, but has also added seven more factors that contribute to toxic stress for the low-income population served by the clinic, including homelessness, involvement in the foster care system, community violence and discrimination, among others.

But the Center for Youth Wellness’s Cecilia Chen cautions that the tool that the center uses is only designed for a specific context.

“Our screening tool is designed to be used by pediatric health care professionals,” said Chen, interim director of policy at the center. “We don’t advocate for its use in the juvenile justice and education systems. Tools don’t always translate across different sectors, and we really don’t know what the unintended consequences would be in other settings.”

Since the center has been using the ACEs tool, it has not seen an increase of children reported to child protective services, Chen said. But even in a pediatric setting, she says, training is necessary to administer ACEs and not jump to conclusions after reviewing the results.


SALINAS HIGH’S DISCIPLINE TURNAROUND THROUGH THE POSITIVE BEHAVIORAL INTERVENTIONS AND SUPPORTS MODEL

By replacing harsh school discipline with the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) program, the number of suspensions at Salinas High School has dropped by 70% in just two years.

Salinas High has used money allocated for disadvantaged kids to hire a full-time intervention specialist to run the PBIS program, which teaches expectations for behavior to kids just like a regular school subject.

PBIS has been such a huge success at the school that Juan Govea, a Salinas biology teacher, traveled to the White House to talk about its implementation and results at a round table discussion on school discipline.

The Californian’s Roberto Robledo has the story of Salinas’ High’s turnaround and ongoing success. Here’s a clip:

Govea was invited to the roundtable based on a previous fellowship he received and the contacts he’d made. He was not an official representative of the Salinas Union High School District. He made the trip to share the huge steps Salinas High is making in student discipline.

“They asked me to take part so they could get a teacher’s perspective. Everybody else there was an administrator or some other capacity at a school district,” Govea said Thursday in an interview.

To subsequent applause, he told the gathering that in the two years since a new behavior program was installed, Salinas High has cut its suspension rate by a whopping 70 percent.

“It’s significant when you know that the kids being suspended — typically English Learners, male, minorities — need as much school time as possible. So when they’re losing it to suspension that puts them at an even greater disadvantage,” he said.

“That 70 percent is now getting a more positive based reinforcement. It allows us to then focus on that 30 percent that is a little bit tougher.”

The Salinas district has adopted the Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports program, which reinforces the rules of behavior and the importance of following them.

“As teachers we identify the kids who need intervention. Brief class lessons during the day reinforce the rules — why tardiness is bad, why not following the dress code is bad,” Govea said.

PBIS succeeds at Salinas High with an intervention specialist working full-time to manage the program, and who gathers a team with teachers, staff, vice principal, counselors. It’s a huge undertaking, Govea said. But the school wisely used funding through the new Local Control Funding Formula to create the full-time focus on PBIS.

One of the positive outcomes Govea has seen is “showing assistant principals how harmful suspensions are for students.” Rather than using suspensions as a first course of action, “how do we address it without putting a shackle on their leg?”


A VERY RARE CALIFORNIA GRAY WOLF SIGHTING

A lone gray wolf appears to be moving through Siskiyou County, says the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. (Note: this is not the beloved OR-7 who made news as the first wolf in California since 1924 when he crossed the border from Oregon four years ago.)

The LA Times’ Julie Cart has the story. Here’s a clip:

Officials said that earlier this summer they began receiving reports of sightings of a large, dark-furred animal. Wildlife authorities set up trail cameras in an effort to catch a glimpse of the animal.

In early May, images from those cameras showed a large, dark, single animal.

In June, a state biologist found tracks believed to be that of a wolf. Cameras placed at that location yielded images of a ‘large, dark-colored canid’ on July 24.

Posted in ACEs, wolves, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

Are California Prosecutors “Stuck in the ’70′s?” A New Report Says YES.

August 3rd, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



The primary power in both our American justice system in general,
and in California’s justice system specifically, does not lie with the judiciary. Nor does it rest with police. The most powerful, and in many ways least accountable, individuals working in our nation’s system of justice are our prosecutors.

In his essay for the Georgetown law Journal about the nation’s most pressing criminal justice reforms, Judge Alex Kozinski of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, writes about how prosecutors do not have to fear sanctions.

Defense lawyers who are found to have been ineffective regularly find their names plastered into judicial opinions, yet judges seem strangely reluctant to name names when it comes to misbehaving prosecutors. Indeed, judges seem reluctant to even suspect prosecutors of improper behavior, as if they were somehow beyond suspicion….Naming names and taking prosecutors to task for misbehavior can have magical qualities in assuring compliance with constitutional rights.

If judges have reason to believe that witnesses, especially police officers or government informants, testify falsely, they must refer the matter for prosecution. If they become aware of widespread misconduct in the investigation and prosecution of criminal cases, a referral to the U.S. Department of Justice for a civil rights violation might well be appropriate.

As a group, both statewide and nationally, prosecutors defend their positions energetically, often acting as the main lobbying group against criminal justice reform—as was the case two weeks ago when President Barack Obama and a bipartisan alliance in Congress called for federal sentencing reform. In response, the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys labeled such proposed changes “a huge mistake,” and—incredibly—called for more prisons.

So who are these prosecutors?

After all, we have a fairly accurate idea of the gender and racial make-up of our police and sheriff’s departments. We also have those same stats for our teachers and for our elected officials. But when it comes to prosecutors, the same demographic of information has not been made public.

As a consequence, critics observed, there has been no push to diversify, because there was no way to know whether or not prosecutors were at all representative of the communities they serve.

Recently, however, all that has begun to change. And the resultant news, according to researchers, is not cheering.

Earlier this month, we reported on a study by the Women’s Donor Network, which examined the racial and gender breakdown of elected prosecutors nationwide. The report—Justice for All?-–found that, of 2,437 elected prosecutors in the U.S., 95% are white and 79% are white men. A startling 60% of states have no elected black prosecutors. Only 17% of elected prosecutors nationwide are women.

Now, a group of Stanford Law School students, working with The Stanford Criminal Justice Center, has drilled down into state figures to make demographics of California prosecutors available for the first time. The team gathered numbers from prosecutors’ offices in 52 of California’s 58 counties, representing nearly 98 percent of the state’s population, and found that whites, who comprise slightly more than 38 percent of the state’s population, hold nearly 70 percent of prosecutors’ jobs.

“The last time 70 percent of Californians were white was four decades ago,” noted the report’s authors. California prosecutors, the report concludes, are “Stuck in the ‘70s.”

The new report, which is actually titled Stuck in the ’70′s: The Demographics of California Prosecutors, found that Latinos are the most poorly represented among prosecutors. Latinos represent almost 39 percent of the population in California but make up only 9 percent of California prosecutors.

The data collected also showed that women are underrepresented in the supervisory ranks of prosecutors in California. Forty-eight percent of California prosecutors are female, but 41 percent of prosecutors with supervisory titles are women.

In an op-ed for the Los Angeles Time, Debbie Mukamal, the executive director of the Stanford center, and Stanford Law School professor David Alan Sklansky, the center’s co-director along with Petersilia, explain why this outsized lack of diversity needs to be addressed.

Here are a couple of clips:

In one police killing after another over the last year, as the nation has waited to find out if charges would be filed against officers, we’ve been reminded that prosecutors are in many ways the most powerful officials in the American criminal justice system.

Prosecutors decide whether to bring a case before a grand jury, how hard to press for an indictment, what charges to request and how punitive a sentence to recommend. Grand juries almost never refuse to file the charges prosecutors request. And mandatory sentencing laws often allow prosecutors to determine the penalty by picking the charges.

Moreover, the vast majority of criminal cases in the United States end in plea bargains, not in trials. So the discretion exercised in our justice system is mostly not by judges but by prosecutors, and typically not by elected district attorneys but by the legions of far less visible lawyers they employ.

[SNIP]

There was some good news in what we found. African Americans are not underrepresented among California prosecutors, although that is partly because the number required to meet that mark is relatively low, given that blacks are just 6% of the state’s population. We also found that close to half of all California prosecutors — 48% — are female, although the figure drops to 41% in supervisory ranks. (Police departments are much worse when it comes to gender equity: Only 13% of law enforcement officers in California are female.)

Our study did not analyze how workforce diversity in prosecutors’ offices influences the outcome of criminal cases. But other researchers have found that when racial minorities are underrepresented among prosecutors, minority defendants receive stiffer sentences. And researchers have shown that respect for the law and trust in legal institutions are undermined when criminal justice agencies do not reflect the communities they serve….

Posted in Prosecutors | 5 Comments »

South Dakota Firefighter Killed Battling Northeastern California Wildfire

August 1st, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



David Ruhl, a South Dakota firefighter with the U.S. Forest Service,
was killed Thursday while fighting the Frog Fire in Modoc County.

Ruhl’s permanent position was Engine Captain on the Mystic Ranger District of the Black Hills National Forest in Rapid City, South Dakota. He was married with two children. He worked for the U.S. Forest Service for 14 years and previously served in the U.S. Coast Guard.

Late on Friday, Governor Jerry Brown and decreed that the capitol flags be flown at half mast, and issued a statement that read in part:

“Anne and I were saddened to learn of the tragic death of U.S. Forest Service Firefighter Dave Ruhl who left his home state to help protect one of California’s majestic forests. Firefighter Ruhl will be remembered for his service and bravery and we extend our deepest condolences to his family, friends and colleagues with the U.S. Forest Service.”

The Frog Fire that Ruhl was helping to battle is one of a dozen large wildfires burning in California.

Governor Brown has declared a state of emergency.

We at WLA join the governor and David Ruhl’s family, friends and firefighting colleagues in grieving for his loss.


Posted in Fire, Life in general | No Comments »

The US Would Save $$$ by Helping Disadvantaged Kids…Disparate School Discipline….California Endowment’s Robert Ross on Justice Reform…and the Struggles of an Understaffed Juvie Lock-Up

July 31st, 2015 by Taylor Walker

KIDS OF COLOR FACE HUGE BARRIERS TO OPPORTUNITY AND ACHIEVEMENT, AND THE US COULD SAVE A TON OF MONEY IF THOSE GAPS WERE CLOSED

A new White House Council of Economic Advisers report shows that it is much more expensive not to tear down the school-to-prison pipeline, lower incarceration rates, and ensure boys and young men of color have the same opportunities to succeed as their white peers.

While black kids represent 18% of the preschool population, they make up 48% of preschoolers who have received two or more out-of-school suspension. Those disparities certainly don’t get any better as kids get older, either. There were 875,000 kids arrested in 2013, the majority of them racial minorities.

Despite similar rates of marijuana use, black people are four times as likely as white people to be arrested for marijuana possession.

The White House report points out that we spend around $112,000 on incarcerating a kid for a year, in comparison to $23,000-$31,000 for a year of college, $13,000 for K-12 public school, and around $1,300 for a major mentoring program like Big Brothers Big Sisters or One Summer Plus.

There are disparities in higher education achievement as well. Only 12.4% of Latino men and 20.8% of black men ages 25-29 have a college degree, compared to 37.7% of white men of the same age.

If we closed the higher education gap between men of color and white men ages 25-64, the number of men of color with a bachelor’s degree (or higher) would double, and they would earn around $170 billion more per year.

The report says that intervention at these milestone life changes are crucial to close the gaps:

• Entering school ready to learn
• Reading at grade level by third grade
• Graduating high school ready for career and college
• Completing post-secondary education and training
• Successfully entering the workforce
• Reducing violence and providing a second chance


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE TOPIC… STUDY SAYS BLACK STUDENTS GET “CRIMINALIZED” DISCIPLINE WHILE WHITE STUDENTS GET “MEDICALIZED”

Black kids often receive suspensions, expulsions, or justice system referrals, while white kids receive medical treatment for the same offenses, according to a Penn State study.

The study, published in the Sociology of Education, used data from 60,000 schools in 6,000 schools districts.

The Daily Beast’s Abby Haglage has more on the report (which is behind a paywall). Here’s a clip:

David Ramey—assistant professor of sociology and criminology at Penn State and the author of the study—has spent years researching how sociological factors affect schools’ modes of punishment. Even when the level of misbehavior is the same, he says, the treatment is not. “White kids tend to get viewed as having ADHD, or having some sort of behavioral problem,” he says. “Black kids are viewed as being unruly and unwilling to learn.”

Ramey is clear about the distinction between the two disciplinary styles. Criminalized discipline revolves around penalizing the student, using concrete things like suspension, expulsion, or referral to law enforcement. Medicalized is distinctly more benign, searching for solutions through medical attention or psychological intervention.

The deeper implications of Ramey’s results are troubling. Misbehavior from black students is seen as a crime that warrants punishment; misbehavior from whites is a malady that needs medicine.

The American Civil Liberties Union refers to this issue as the “school-to-prison-pipeline” (STTP): “a nationwide system of local, state, and federal education and public safety policies that pushes students out of school and into the criminal justice system.” Dwindling resources, pressure to bring in high test scores, and increased caution from school shootings are all cited as contributing factors.


CALIFORNIA A MODEL FOR OTHER STATES IN THE PUSH FOR CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM

In an op-ed for the Huffington Post, California Endowment President Robert Ross applauds President Barack Obama’s recently heightened focus on shifting the nation away from punitive and costly mass incarceration, moving instead toward a prevention and opportunity mindset. Ross highlights the progress California has made toward meaningful criminal justice reform, including passing Prop 47 (which reclassified certain non-serious felonies as misdemeanors), and implementing restorative justice in schools that were funneling kids into the juvenile justice system. Here’s a clip:

We worked with young leaders to address the fact that, for many of our young people, their criminalization begins as early as elementary school. Rather than asking why our students are acting out, they are being pushed out of school and police are being called in to deal with things such as talking back to teachers.

Through our grantees’ efforts, more schools in California are now adopting positive school discipline–giving students the opportunity to reconcile their mistakes–rather than pushing students out of schools and into the juvenile justice system.

Not only do our policies reflect prioritization of punishment over prevention, but so does our state spending. In California, we spend $62,300 a year to keep one inmate in prison but just $9,100 per year to educate one student in our public schools, one of many statistics we highlighted through our Do The Math campaign.

Realizing this contradiction, California voters decided to shift spending priorities towards prevention by passing Proposition 47, the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act, which gives Californians a second chance at opportunity by lowering some non-violent offenses to misdemeanors rather than felonies and shifts up to $1 billion dollars every year toward community health programs.

These efforts will help turn the tide on our prison population, which has grown 430 percent nationally since 1970. At the same time that we seek to break the school-to-prison pipeline, we cannot forget those who have ended up in prison.

One of the most moving things we did last year was visit one of our prisons here in California, to be able to hear from incarcerated people about the type of opportunities they’d like while behind bars to prepare them to best re-enter their lives and communities.

What we heard is they’d like to further their education, be offered opportunities to heal from intense trauma, and have more communication with their families.

We applaud President Obama for visiting El Reno Correctional Institution and we encourage more of our national leaders to do the same. And to take time listening to our youth, you’d be surprised how much information they’ll share about the type of opportunities and future they’d like us to build for them, but it’s up to us to act on that information.


CRITICALLY UNDERSTAFFED ALAMEDA COUNTY JUVIE DETENTION CENTER STRUGGLES TO MEET KIDS’ NEEDS

Brett Myers of of NPR’s Youth Radio visited a juvenile detention facility in San Leandro, CA, that’s struggling to maintain their reputation as a model juvenile facility to due to severe understaffing. Even though they watch over a smaller population of kids than the facility housed around 2010, guards are doing double the amount of overtime they did five years ago, and the kids are paying the price. Use-of-force incidents have tripled, and kids are spending more time in their cells missing out on recreation time.

Myers’ story is part of a series on juvenile justice. (On Thursday, WLA pointed to two stories on juvenile probation that are also from this series.)

Here’s a clip from the write up of the radio show:

According to county records obtained by Youth Radio, guards used pepper spray 147 times last year. The kicker: 90 percent of state-run juvenile correctional agencies don’t allow guards to carry pepper spray. But here, with guards working an average of 30 hours of overtime per week, there has been an increase in the use of force on juvenile inmates — like guards performing takedowns or handcuffing inmates. The department calls these acts “use of physical and mechanical restraints,” and that number nearly tripled in the past five years…

Supervisor Ray Colon has been working for Alameda County Juvenile Hall for 25 years.

“You’ve got a couple of staff watching a number of kids, and things happen,” he says.

During waking hours, the state mandates a minimum of one guard for every 10 kids in detention.

When they’re short on guards, supervisors sometimes run what they call split recs — basically dividing recreation, exercise and dinner time in half. Fifteen kids come out while the other 15 remain in their cells.

“The kids don’t always get the services they should get because we’re running short. They spend more time in their room, which is unfortunate, but it’s the reality of not having the staff to complete the duties we need to do,” Colon says.

Malik, 18, spent more than four months incarcerated in Alameda County Juvenile Hall. He says when young people are locked in their cells, tensions flare.

“Man, more fights, more attitudes. Kicking and banging — it’s just angry. They want to be out of their rooms. That’s why I used to kick and bang,” he says. “If I know that I have a guaranteed hour of PE each day no matter what, I’m going to be angry if I can’t get that.”

Posted in Education, juvenile justice, Obama, racial justice, Rehabilitation, Restorative Justice, School to Prison Pipeline | 5 Comments »

Oakland Mentorship Program Offers Safety & Healing to Sexually Exploited Young Women – by Sarah Zahedi

July 30th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


EDITOR’S NOTE:
San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego metropolitan areas are all rated as among of the highest intensity centers for child commercial sex trafficking in the nation. 

Fortunately, California has been a leader in reforming its response to the commercial sexual exploitation of children, treating the young people involved as the victims of crime they are, not lawbreakers to be prosecuted.

Yet, for victims of sex trafficking, recovery can be extremely challenging due to the severity of the emotional and physical abuse, as well as the sexual abuse, they have endured. Fortunately, as California reformed its legal response to sex trafficking victims, community organizations have been emerging to help these young women and men to whom great harm has been done to begin the healing process and then to find ways to thrive.

In the story below, which originally appeared in the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, journalist Sarah Zahedi explores the work of one such program.

IN OAKLAND, SEXUALLY EXPLOITED YOUNG WOMEN FIND HEALING AND HOPE

How a unique mentorship program started by survivors of sexual exploitation gives sexually trafficked girls a safe and loving place to redefine their lives.

by Sarah Zahedi

Through times of trauma and distress, often all a child needs is to be showered with love. It may sound corny, but for the estimated 100,000 children who are sexually exploited per year around the country, it can be transformative.

The Lasting Links Mentorship Program at MISSSEY (Motivating, Inspiring, Supporting and Serving Sexually Exploited Youth), an Oakland, Calif., nonprofit, works to end child exploitation and help victims through the formation of healthy, supportive and loving adult relationships.

“Some of them will even just come in to the drop-in center for a hug. They’ve said that to us,” said executive director Falilah Bilal at MISSSEY.

In Oakland, MISSSEY’s efforts are more than necessary. The San Francisco Bay Area is one of the top three epicenters of human trafficking in the United States along with Los Angeles and San Diego, with 46 percent of all prosecuted human trafficking cases in California coming from the Alameda District Attorney’s office.

“People think that this is a problem that happens to kids ‘over there,’ whether it’s kids from other countries or poor black kids or boys from another place,” said Bilal. “People don’t think that this is an American-bred issue that happens across all class and all gender. This is something confronting and impacting all of us.”

MISSSEY partners with Girls Inc. and the Mentoring Center to match people who wish to volunteer their time to provide advice and emotional support to sexually exploited young women in need.

“The goal of the program is to provide a restorative healthy adult relationship to youth who have experienced disruption and betrayal in adult relationships,” said mentoring and training coordinator Liz Longfellow.

To become a mentor, applicants must attend an information session, fill out an application, be interviewed, participate in a rigorous 20-hour training program and go through a criminal background check. From there, the match process can take a while, depending on what youth want from a mentor. MISSSEY works to have several mentors on hand so there is an individual mentor who meets the youth’s specific requests as soon as the youth requests a mentor.

Some of the mentors are already connected to the field, therapists or social workers or nurses who have worked with sexually exploited youth in the past. Other mentors are simply people who want to help. The minimum duration of the mentor-mentee relationship is one year.

“It’s a commitment to become a mentor,” Longfellow said. “The process of getting matched with a mentee takes so long because the mentor has to show they will give their time and commitment. If the relationships doesn’t last a year, it’s not going to be as effective for the youth.”

The sense of love and care the young girls can get from a mentor has proven to bring about monumental positive change, especially since many of the relationships last beyond one year, she said.

“The year is a great benchmark but it’s great when it continues on,” Longfellow said. “We’ve had some of the youth come back and say [their mentors] are stuck with them for life. That’s a successful relationship.”

Take Sheila (all clients’ and mentors’ names have been changed), now 18. After being exploited for many years in Oakland, she realized that in order to get out of the life, she needed to move away from the city. She wanted to be far enough away to feel safe, yet be able to visit family and friends every now and again. Her child welfare worker in Alameda County helped her find supported housing in the Antioch/Bay Point area. But when Sheila got there, she felt very alone and disoriented. She didn’t know how to use the bus system to get to the store, let alone to look for a job.

Longfellow matched her with a mentor named Ena who is also a survivor of commercial sexual exploitation. Ena, who has lived in Antioch for many years, was able to show Sheila around. With Ena’s support, Sheila eventually was able to find a job. Ena also helped her decorate her new apartment, which in part involved creating a vision board to give Sheila a daily visual reminder of her dreams and goals. Ena, who was a college student then, knew about many area resources to make school more affordable. She referred Sheila to several people in her support network so that she could feel more encouraged to take college classes and feel more connected to her new community. After many conversations about Sheila’s traumatic history, Ena convinced Sheila to reconnect with a therapist.

“I wouldn’t have been able to make it here without Ena,” Sheila said. “She has helped me so much and I feel really comfortable talking with her and telling her personal stuff about myself. That doesn’t really happen for me. It’s a relief.”


From 2007 to 2014, MISSSEY has served approximately 1,000 girls. And the organization’s services do not stop at the mentorship program. It also offers case management for youth looking to get out of the life of sex trafficking and a foster youth program, funded by Alameda County Social Services to prevent and intervene in child sex work.

MISSSEY was founded by two survivors of commercial sexual exploitation of children along with two allies. It’s staffed by a number of other survivors of sexual exploitation.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Sex trafficking, Trauma | No Comments »

« Previous Entries Next Entries »