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Tarrant County, TX, Demonstrates the Art of Helping Law-Breaking Kids

March 5th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


EDITOR’S NOTE:
A week ago, we published a story from the series by John Kelly for the Chronicle of Social Change, which is taking a close look at programs that use a strategy known as
Positive Youth Justice to help kids who have come in contact with the juvenile justice system.

Last week’s story explored an Oakland, CA, program that uses a process called community conferencing, which asks lawbreaking kids to confront the effects of their crime.

This week, the series looks at a program in Tarrant County, Texas that has been successful in helping reboot the lives of kids who, two decades ago, would have been sent to a state-run juvenile lock-up.


This story was produced as a collaborative project with The Chronicle of Social Change.


THE ART OF HELPING LAWBREAKING KIDS WITH ADVOCATES & WITHOUT INCARCERATION

by John Kelly

Most state and county juvenile justice systems have reduced the number and rate of juveniles admitted to secure or residential confinement. But many counties still lack community-based options that provide the kind of intensive and effective rehabilitative services not found in simple probation.

Tarrant County, Texas, has filled that need for more than 20 years through partnership with a national provider of community corrections that uses a youth development framework to help kids recalibrate their lives..

The Tarrant County Advocate Program (TCAP) pairs trained advocates with high-risk juveniles and their families in an attempt to identify and build on the strengths of both.

“They’re not just serving that kid,” said Randy Turner, director and chief probation officer of Tarrant County Juvenile Services (TCJS). “You’ll have the younger brother, a mom that might need to take classes. They’re helping that family, as a unit, connect to the right resources.”


HOW IT STARTED

Tarrant County is located in North Texas, with Fort Worth its largest city.  In the early 1990s, the county was home to a gang war between the Bloods, Crips, and Latin Kings. According to a feature on Fort Worth gangs by Fort Worth Weekly, the city’s police tallied 31 gang-related killings in 1990, 23 in 1991, 11 in 1992, and a staggering 60 in 1993.

Polytechnic Heights and Stop Six, two predominantly African-American and Latino communities in Fort Worth, were at the heart of that conflict.

At the time, counties in Texas had very little in the way of community options when it came to serving adjudicated youths. Officials didn’t have much incentive to create a local program, because it cost them nothing out of the county coffers to place a juvenile offender into the state-run juvenile prisons operated by the Texas Youth Commission (TYC).

During that era, two neighborhoods in Tarrant County—Polytechnic Heights and Stop Six—had become particularly active feeders for TYC. More than a million people lived in Tarrant County in 1992, and only about 15,000 of them live in Polytechnic Heights and Stop Six. Yet, in the early 90s, 40 percent of the youth the county sent to TYC facilities came from those two neighborhoods.

Carey Cockerell, Tarrant County’s chief probation officer at the time, said he and several county probation leaders were unhappy seeing so many kids being shoved into state lock-ups.  So they reached out to a lawmaker named Rick Williamson about the lack of state support for any option other than TYC facilities and county probation. Williamson, then a conservative member of the Texas legislature’s appropriations committee,, secured $16 million to help counties establish programs that allowed kids to remain local, Tarrant County among them.

Now that he had the budget, Cockerell needed to find an organization capable of working with high-risk youth in a community setting. A national juvenile justice reform consultant named Paul DeMuro recommended a Pennsylvania-based group called Youth Advocate Programs (YAP).

YAP was founded in the mid-1970s by Tom Jeffers, whose background includes being second in command on the Massachusetts Department of Youth Services staff that famously managed to close the state’s juvenile prisons in the early 1970s. It now has contracts for juvenile justice systems in 18 states.

Cockerell flew east to observe YAP’s Philadelphia program. “We liked what we saw,” he said. “This was a group of people committed to the mission of keeping kids in their homes, with strength-based intensive services.”

While in Philly, Cockerell attended a staff meeting where a YAP advocate described to the directors a horrific home situation for one of his kids: no running water, relatives with multiple convictions living in the home, a sister already in foster care. The advocate recommended pushing the county to remove the child from the home.

“The consensus of the staff was, instead, let’s get his whole family out of that house,” Cockerell said. “By the time I left the next day, they had found affordable housing for the boy, his mom and siblings.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Gangs, juvenile justice, Positive Youth Justice | No Comments »

Inmates Write their Own Obits, Community Policing, Ferguson Reports, and #Cut50

March 5th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

SAN QUENTIN INMATES COMPOSE THEIR OWN OBITUARIES IN WRITING CLASS

In this exceptional multimedia Column One story by the LA Time’s Chris Megerian, San Quentin State Prison inmates share obituaries they’ve written for themselves as part of a writing assignment. The inmates designed their own demise (several chose to die protecting others) and for what they wanted to be remembered.

Here’s a clip, but definitely go over to Megerian’s story and read and watch for yourself:

Since Julian Glenn Padgett arrived in 2006, he’s enrolled in academic classes and played Shylock in a prison production of Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice.” Even while sitting in a cramped storage closet during a break from his work at the inmate-run newspaper, he spoke with the intensity of an actor on stage. Asked about committing murder, he cited a Walt Whitman poem.

Padgett stabbed and killed a man he believed was a romantic rival. Therefore, his victim cannot “contribute a verse” in “the powerful play” of life.

“I don’t want to be remembered as the man to do that,” he said. Like You, he doesn’t mention his crime in his fictional obituary.

Padgett, a 51-year-old Ethiopian Jew who wears a knit kippa over his dreadlocks, was convicted in 1997 in Sacramento and isn’t eligible for parole until 2023.

His obituary is brimming with passion for outdoor activities that are out of reach.

“Julian loved everything to do with nature,” he writes, “and often took trips with many of his friends on the weekends where they would go camping, horse back riding, snow and water skiing and his favorite mountain climbing.”

Padgett describes an epic death from an earthquake striking the Bay Area. It was the first thing that came to mind, he said.

“Earthquakes are memorable. They’re forces of nature,” he said. “To take me out, it would take something like that.”


THE 21ST CENTURY POLICING REPORT AND COMMUNITY POLICING IN LOS ANGELES

The day after Sunday’s LAPD Skid Row shooting of an unarmed homeless man, the White House released an interim report from the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing (established after the controversial deaths in Ferguson, New York, Los Angeles, and Cleveland at the hands of officers). The report lauded the LAPD’s Watts and East LA community policing teams as well as its civilian oversight commission.

However, the shooting highlights how important it is that Los Angeles law enforcement agencies continue working toward better community relations through training, new programs, and policy changes.

KPCC’s Erika Aguilar has more on the issue. Here are some clips:

“Law enforcement cannot build community trust if it is seen as an occupying force coming in from outside to rule and control the community,” the report states.

The task force was formed in December in response to the national debate on policing after officers in Ferguson, Los Angeles, New York and Cleveland killed young African-American men.

In the federal report, the Los Angeles Police department’s community policing teams in Watts and East Los Angeles were highlighted for building on-the-ground relationships with public housing residents. Officers there are assigned to community policing teams for five years and are offered more pay, according to the federal report.

Los Angeles also earned a mention for its civilian oversight board.

But shootings like the one on Skid Row expose the remaining rifts between police and communities.

Criminology professor Elliot Currie of the University of California, Irvine said having multiple policing programs is a good start, but the goal is for police departments to implement relationship-based policing across the board.

“What we want is for these not to be considered as scattered programs that we implement within a police department that’s otherwise unchanged,” Currie said. “But that we slowly shift the whole conception of what a police department is.”

Here is a clip from Los Angele Sheriff Jim McDonnell’s statement to the task force late last month about the challenges the sheriff’s department faces with regard to ensuring better interactions with the mentally ill:

We are…ill equipped to address the challenges of this population in patrol. Patrol personnel lack the requisite mental health training and we have a dearth of Mental Evaluation (or ”MET”) Teams and community supports to help deputies properly handle and deescalate contacts with mentally ill persons. In 2013, nearly 40% of all use of force incidents involved individuals suffering from mental illness and in too many cases we “arrest” our way out of these encounters rather than diverting individuals to the community treatment and care they need.

The strategies that can enable us to change this paradigm exist and are in place in pieces around the nation, but have yet to be brought to scale throughout the country. We need:

1. Resources to support crisis intervention (“CIT”) training so deputies working the streets (as well as within Custody) know how to identify and respond to individuals with mental disorders and, wherever possible, divert entry into the justice system.

2. Support for MET teams where we pair deputies with mental health clinicians and create a comprehensive response to those in crisis. In LA these teams are few and far between – often they operate only during business hours and can be as much as an hour away from a critical incident.

3. Support for community-based resource centers with multidisciplinary treatment in a therapeutic environment that avoids incarceration. These models exist elsewhere and, in the long run, result in improved outcomes as well as fiscal savings.

4. A new paradigm with strategies that focus on alternatives to incarceration – including mental health courts and other diversion strategies.


THE DOJ’S FERGUSON FINDINGS

In an 86-page report released Wednesday, the US Department of Justice cleared Ferguson officer Darren Wilson of “prosecutable [civil rights] violations” in the death of Michael Brown.

A separate DOJ investigation found systemic racial bias and policing-for-profit within Ferguson’s police force and court system. Among other findings in the scathing 100-page report, black residents accounted for 85% of FPD’s traffic stops, 90% of citations, and 93% percent of arrests. The report calls for….

The Washington Post’s Mark Berman and Wesley Lowery have a helpful cliff-notes list of the report’s highlights.

(And here’s a WaPo list of alarming statistics from the report.)


WHAT CUTTING THE US PRISON POPULATION BY 50% WOULD LOOK LIKE

The Marshall Project’s Dana Goldstein explores what it would take to fulfill the goal of the #Cut50 movement to reduce the nation’s jail population by 50% within 10 years. That would mean more than a million fewer people would be locked up, through things like changing sentencing laws, bolstering diversion and reentry programs, and split-sentencing.

This figure is not attainable even by giving up the war on drugs and completely eradicating incarceration for non-serious/non-violent/non-sex offenses. Those convicted of violent crimes would have to be part of the population reduction equation.

This has criminal justice reform advocates on both sides of party lines disagreeing about the 50% goal, whether it’s feasible and inline with public safety, and what it would take to get there.

Goldstein’s story includes an interactive section that allows you to move sliders for offender groups and make your own 50%. (Go try it.) Here’s a clip:

Vikrant Reddy, coordinator of the Right on Crime campaign, agreed. “The focus among conservatives is the low-level nonviolent offenders.” As for Cut50, “I just don’t like the name of this organization. The reason is because I see this issue, and most conservatives see this issue, in terms of public safety. If I felt confident the levels of incarceration we have in the United States made us a safer society, I would begrudgingly say, ‘So be it.’”

“I really admire what Cut50 is trying to do, but I am concerned that people are going to misunderstand it,” Reddy added. “The bottom line is not just getting the levels of incarceration down. The end point is that crime rates are still too high.” (Crime is currently at a four-decade low, although rates remain high in segregated, high-poverty neighborhoods.)

Civil rights activist Van Jones is co-founder of Rebuild the Dream, the organization promoting the “Cut50” tagline. Jones and Gingrich are co-hosting a March 26 conference in Washington, D.C. to bring criminal justice reformers together across party lines. Jones acknowledges that conservatives have not signed onto the Cut50 goal. But he points out that many people convicted of violent crimes have, in fact, not hurt anyone physically, such as offenders picked up for theft or burglary and discovered to have a gun on them.

“We might want to look at whether someone who had a gun but didn’t use it should be considered violent,” Jones said. “People will say that’s gun crime and you can’t talk about them. Well, I think that’s ridiculous.”

That might discomfit some liberals who favor stricter gun controls. Meanwhile, the idea of the home as a castle has been popular on the right, resulting in laws that rank burglary alongside violent bodily assault. So on both sides of the political spectrum there is lingering support for the tough sentences that would have to be reduced in order to cut the prison population by 50 percent.

Jones and other reformers, both progressive and conservative, say it is not yet time to focus on the hot-button question of whether to redefine violent crime. “We’re not heavily leaning into that part of the conversation yet, because there is so much common ground on the nonviolent offenders, the indigent population, and the mental health population. We think we can get some momentum going,” Jones said.

Meanwhile, some scholars point out just how modest — by international and historic standards — a 50 percent reduction in the prison population would be.

“When does mass incarceration become regular incarceration?” asked Michael Jacobson, a former New York City corrections and probation commissioner and director of the CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance. To bring the United States to a prison incarceration rate equal to that of European nations — or to our own rate in the early 1970s — we would have to slash our incarceration rate from 623 per every 100,000 adults to about 150 per 100,000. That would be a reduction of approximately 80 percent.

Posted in Jim McDonnell, journalism, LAPD, LASD, mental health, prison, racial justice, Sentencing, War on Drugs, writers and writing | 4 Comments »

Fighting Child Sex Trafficking, Planting Informants, LA County Settles Another High Ticket Lawsuit…and LAPD’s Mental Health Training

March 4th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LA SUPES MOVE TO BLOCK CHILD TRAFFICKING IN HOMELESS MOTELS

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors passed a motion to step up the county’s regulations on emergency shelter motels in an effort to combat child sex trafficking.

These facilities receive money from the county to provide short term housing to the homeless, but have also become easy hubs for sex trafficking.

The motion directs the Department of Public and Social Services to work out how the county can increase funding to the General Relief Emergency Housing Program to boost the amount of money paid to the motels, and identify alternative housing options for the homeless population.

The motion also directs DPSS and County Counsel to report back in 30 days with a feasibility analysis regarding changing the current motel participation free-for-all to a competitive bid process. The approved motels would sign a contract saying they would allow no sex trafficking on their property. They would also have to take an anti-trafficking training session, as well as hang up posters with hotline numbers in visible places. In addition, law enforcement inspections could occur at any time without warning (they are usually conducted during regular business hours, currently).

Here’s a clip from the motion by Mark Ridley-Thomas and Don Knabe:

Throughout Los Angeles County (County), children as young as nine are being exploited sexually for commercial purposes. According to the California Child Welfare Council, a trafficker may earn as much as $650,000 in a year by selling as few as four children. Often, motels and hotels are used by traffickers and buyers of sex with children as the venue for exploitation. According to The Polaris Project, an international anti-human trafficking organization named after the North Star which guided slaves to freedom in the United States, victims may be forced to stay at a hotel or motel where customers come to them or they are required to go to rooms rented out by the customers or traffickers. Additionally, sex trafficking victims often stay in hotels and motels with their traffickers while moving to different cities or states.

Approximately 45 motels/hotels are used Countywide to house homeless individuals through the Department of Public Social Services (DPSS) General Relief (GR) Emergency Housing program, which was developed to provide temporary shelter for homeless GR applicants while their application financial assistance is pending. An estimated 22 of these motels are located in the 2nd District, by far the highest percentage in the County. Of those 22 in the 2nd District, at least half are located on well-known prostitution tracks.

LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell fully supports the Supes’ decision. Here’s a clip from his statement on the Supes decision:

As your Sheriff, I, along with the more than 18,000 men and women of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, remain committed to protecting the victims of this horrific emerging crime. We will continue our active engagement of – and partnership with — local, state and national leaders to obtain the necessary tools and resources to fight these criminal enterprises. I am also committed to work with local, state and federal partners to bring awareness to the need for enhanced penalties against the traffickers who sell these girls and the men who create the demand that sustains this criminal enterprise.

We must also work to address those in commercial ventures, including motel owners, who are creating a vehicle for these crimes to occur in our community. Our detectives routinely respond to the illicit narcotics and sex trade business, often gang-related, operating in and around motels throughout the County. This illegal business is often conducted during all hours of the day and night, in open view of residences and in the presence of children walking to school.

McDonnell has also been hammering away at this issue. Here’s a clip from his statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on human sex trafficking late last month:

For the larger counties such as Los Angeles, child sex trafficking is a problem that is not going away. In Los Angeles, our County departments and law enforcement agencies are endeavoring to work together to respond to the growing problem of trafficking and the sexual exploitation of children. We are crafting new approaches that better address the unique challenges these offenses pose.

One of our primary areas of focus has been on rehabilitating rather than punishing and detaining CSEC victims. We are helping sexually exploited children through a multi-agency team approach in a specialized juvenile court – called the “STAR” Court (Succeed Through Achievement and Resilience) – that avoids the typically adversarial nature of delinquency proceedings. County staff work to quickly move victims out of the juvenile justice system and coordinate with providers to offer needed services as well as increasing awareness and the identification of CSEC victims. Initiatives such as the STAR court have been funded through two grants awarded to the County’s Juvenile Court and Probation Department by the State of California from its Federal Title II Juvenile Justice Formula Grant allocation. Yet this is only a single court that impacts a limited number of young trafficking victims.

What is really needed at the local level is enhanced funding. Several pieces of legislation, including the Violence Against Women Act enacted in 2013, authorized grants for local initiatives to combat trafficking. But funds are seldom appropriated for this purpose.

For example, in Fiscal Year 2015, Congress tripled the appropriation of Department of Justice (DOJ) funding for trafficking victim services programs from $14.25 million to $42.25 million, but there is currently no assurance that DOJ will provide any of this funding to local governments. At a minimum, we would request that DOJ set aside at least $8 million of this funding for grants for local government initiatives that could be used to support more specialized courts such as the one in Los Angeles or for victim services provided by law enforcement, child welfare, or probation agencies. Funding could also be used to establish a Sex Trafficking Block Grant as authorized by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, as amended….

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Christie Rennick has more on the important move. Here’s a clip:

Also of concern is that vendors appear to under-report criminal activity on their premises to law enforcement, and that DPSS only makes a single monthly visit to each vendor, which takes place during regular business hours.

A spokesperson for DPSS said during today’s board meeting that the agency is committed to working with the board to ensure it does not contract with entities who allow sex trafficking at their facilities. DPSS also plans to collaborate with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and other law enforcement agencies to establish a reporting protocol in order to capture criminal activity taking place at hotels and motels under contract with the county.

One of many community-based nonprofit organizations supporting the motion is Saving Innocence, which works to rescue children from sexual trafficking.

“One-hundred percent of the children we serve were held captive or sold in these hotels and motels,” said Kim Biddle, executive director, during the meeting. “I would say we also need to look into criminalizing owners and managers of these hotels, but at the very least we need to increase their accountability.”


A PEAK INTO THE PRACTICE OF PLACING INFORMANTS WITH SUSPECTS TO GET INCRIMINATING

JAIL SUPERVISOR SEZ INFORMANTS WERE REGULARLY PLANTED TO GET SUSPECTS TO SELF-INCRIMINATE

A retired Santa Clara County Jail official, Lt. Frank Dixon, says he housed jailhouse informants with suspects to question them at the request of other cops and prosecutors from the District Attorney’s office, in violation of their civil rights.

A US Supreme Court ruling in 1986 says that informants may only be used for listening purposes; they are not to question suspects without the presence of their attorneys or coerce them into incriminating themselves.

San Jose Mercury News’ Tracy Kaplan has the story. Here are some clips:

“This has been happening everywhere nearly forever,” Orange County Public Defender Scott Sanders said. “How many wrongful convictions are there in this state behind these types of actions? Thousands, certainly. It is scary.”

[SNIP]

Former Santa Clara County District Attorney George Kennedy, who was first elected in 1990 and served four terms, said prosecutors “infrequently” did ask that inmates be housed in particular jail units, but only “in the most important matters” to learn such things as an accused killer’s motive or the location of a corpse. But he said they didn’t violate the inmates’ rights.

“Inmate-colleagues transferred for such purpose were not acting as questioning law-enforcement agents, but rather as persons given opportunities to listen,” Kennedy said.

In the Bains case, the informant, who claimed he just happened to be placed in the same unit as the accused killer, peppered him and other inmates with questions, according to testimony during the trial.

Dixon does not recall specifically planting the informant in Bains’ case. But he says that housing the suspected killer with informant Raymond Delgado, who had testified two weeks earlier in a different case and should have been in protective custody, was so “highly unusual” that it probably was intentional. He also clearly recalls “routinely” planting other informants in his capacity from the late 1980s through the late 1990s as one of two lieutenants who ran the classification unit, which assigns inmates to cells. He also said others in the classifications unit did the same thing.

[SNIP]

In his declaration, Dixon also said law enforcement agencies “upon occasion” would book an informant on “made-up charges” to gather information. He called the practice “849-ing,” referring to the penal code section that requires the release of inmates who are not charged with a crime within 48 hours. Dixon also said in the interview that he would make arrangements for a jail informant and a defendant who did not have to appear in court on a particular day to be bused to the courthouse so they would be forced to spend all day together in a cramped holding cell, where the informant would have plenty of time to tease out information from the other inmate.


LA COUNTY TO SETTLE JUVENILE CAMP BEATING CASE FOR $1.2 MIL

The LA County Board of Supervisors approved a settlement to the tune of $1.2 million in a lawsuit alleging that in 2008, juvenile detention camp staff neglected to address and subdue known racial tension that lead to a riot and the severe beating of Nathaniel Marshall. Marshall, who is black, sustained life-long injuries when he was pulled from his bunk and beaten by other teenagers during the riot at Camp Miller in Malibu.

Marshall suffered strokes during the incident, and now has epilepsy.

County attorneys only recommended a settlement after spending over $730,000 in legal fees and other expenses.

After the riot, the probation department lowered the number of kids placed at Miller to boost the staff-to-kid ratio, and implemented new safety policies.

The Santa Monica Mirror has more on the settlement. Here’s a clip:

“This was a systematic breakdown that amounted to deliberate indifference,” Goldstein said last summer. “These kids at that camp were entitled to be protected.”

A summary prepared by the Probation Department claimed that staffers were able to quickly control the situation.

“Staff worked to contain the situation quickly and effectively and the fight was stopped within seconds by giving verbal commands and making use of safe crisis management techniques,” according to the report….

Attorney Tomas Guterres, representing the county, told jurors that fights in detention camps cannot be eliminated. “It’s the nature of the population,” he said.

Goldstein said staffers and his client warned camp personnel that a race riot was about to break out, but no action was taken to prevent it. The complaint alleged the county failed to properly train and supervise the staff to make sure they reacted properly to the warnings.

In the wake of the brawl, the Probation Department cut the number of juvenile offenders housed at Camp Miller to create a better staffing ratio and also updated and expanded safety and security procedures, according to a “corrective action plan” submitted to the board for approval.


A QUICK-GUIDE ON THE LAPD’S MENTAL HEALTH TRAINING PRACTICES

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck noted in Monday’s press conference that two of the officers involved with Sunday’s Skid Row shooting had received specialized mental health training.

KPCC’s Stephanie O’Neill has a helpful rundown on what the LAPD’s mental health training looks like, how many officers receive it, and how the Mental Evaluation Unit works. Here’s a clip:

What kind of training did the officers have?

Chief Beck says the officers involved in the shooting were assigned to the department’s Safer Cities Initiative, which launched in 2005 to deal with issues of crime on Skid Row. As part of that program, he says, all were “specially trained on dealing with homeless people and mental illness issues.”

In that unit, officers are trained in a 2 1/2-hour course that updates the six hours of training all cadets get in the police academy. What’s more, officers in that program are given priority to attend the LAPD”s week-long Mental Health Evaluation Training (MHIT).

What kind of training does MHIT provide to officers?

The course is a 36-hour intensive that covers all aspects of mental illness and crisis intervention. The training includes role playing exercises in which clinicians from the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health act out common scenarios that officers are likely to come across in the field.

Those role plays include talking a jumper off a ledge; dealing with a person suffering from active delusions and helping families deal with a loved one in crisis.

Another exercise teaches officers what it’s like for someone with paranoid delusions. One officer sits down while two people talk into each of his ears. While that’s happening, another person stands in front of the seated officer and gives him orders. The officer must then write down what he’s able to hear. The exercise is intended to show the police how hard it is for someone who might be hearing voices to follow their commands, and why many in the throes of delusions aren’t able to follow their orders.

Posted in Jim McDonnell, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, mental health, Skid Row | 1 Comment »

Skid Row Shooting Points to Larger Problems…..Attica Dramas, Past & Present…CA Supremes Overturn Sex Offender Housing Law…..Holder’s To Do List

March 3rd, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

TWO BODY CAMERAS IN SKID ROW SHOOTING REPORTEDLY OFFER TELLING INFO, AS DEADLY INCIDENT POINTS TO LARGER PROBLEMS, EXPERTS SAY

The above video of Sunday’s fatal shooting of a mentally ill Skid Row man by officers of the Los Angeles Police Department is the original one shot by a bystander that’s gone viral on YouTube, not one of the body cam videos that are expected to play a role in determining what actually happened, and if use of deadly force could have been avoided.

The shooting, which has inevitably sparked controversy, was covered by at least two amateur videos as well as the security camera of the Union Rescue Mission, and two body cameras worn by LAPD officers who activated their devices prior to the action.

While the LAPD has not yet released the body cam videos, LA Times’ Kate Mather and Richard Winton talked to police sources who have reviewed the videos. Here is a clip from the story outlining what Winton and Mather learned:

Footage from body cameras worn by an LAPD officer and a sergeant involved in Sunday’s deadly shooting in downtown’s skid row does not show whether the man reached for an officer’s gun, law enforcement sources said.

But three sources who reviewed the footage from the chest-mounted cameras said the video was still consistent with accounts that the man did grab an officer’s holstered pistol.

One source said an officer is heard on the video shouting “He’s got my gun” multiple times. The footage then shows the officers pulling away from the man as though his actions posed a threat, the sources said.

The sources requested anonymity because they were not allowed to publicly discuss the ongoing investigation into the shooting.

The new information comes a day after an LAPD sergeant and two officers shot and killed a man in downtown’s skid row, an area heavily populated by homeless people.

The LAPD has said the officers were responding to a 911 call about a robbery and that the man tried to fight the officers after they approached him. During the struggle, the LAPD said, the man reached for a probationary officer’s holstered pistol, prompting police to open fire.

In a press conference on Monday, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck showed a still photo from the bystander’s video that appears to show the homeless man reaching for an officer’s weapon. Beck also said that two of the officers involved were among those had received extensive training in dealing with the mentally ill.

Reverend Andy Bales, the highly respected executive director of the nearby Union Rescue Mission, who said he knew the homeless man shot by officers, who called himself “Africa, told reporters that Skid Row is becoming an increasingly difficult area to police due to the influx of homeless from elsewhere in LA County where officials, rather than deal with their own homeless residents, send them to Skid Row. Bales called current conditions the worst he’s seen.

LAPD Officer Deon Joseph, who has been widely praised for his own longterm work on Skid Row, echoed many of Bales’ observations on his Facebook page on Monday regarding the about the newly dire nature of conditions for LA’s homeless. (Joseph was not present at the shooting on Sunday.) The current system “is failing the mentally ill,” he wrote, “it is failing the community they live in, as well as the officers who serve them.”

URM’s Bales went further and strongly recommended far more training for law enforcement, and that the specially trained officers be allowed to take the lead in approaching homeless who are likely mentally ill, while armed officers wait nearby.

The veteran homeless expert told the LA Times columnist Sandy Banks that he’s frequently seen encounters similar to Sunday’s go wrong, “because the officers are all using one hand to protect their guns.”


A BEATDOWN OF AN INMATE INSIDE ATTICA PRISON BY GUARDS WAKES OLD GHOSTS AND RESULTS IN NEW CHARGES—AND A VERY UNEXPECTED SETTLEMENT

Built in the 1930′s, the supermax prison located in Attica, New York, seems to have more than the usual number of ghosts—vivid collective memories that still haunt nearly everyone locked up in or working at the place.

Attica Correctional Facility entered the national lexicon in September 9, 1971 when, after weeks of tension, the inmates rioted and took over the facility, beating a guard fatally in the process. Although guards took most of the prison back within hours, 1,281 convicts retained control of an exercise field called D Yard, where they held 39 prison guards and employees hostage for four days. When negotiations stalled, state police and prison officers launched a disastrous raid on September 13, in which 10 hostages and 29 inmates were killed in an uncontrolled storm of bullets.

A total of 43 people died. That number included the original guard killed by inmates, William Quinn, and three inmates who were beaten to death by other prisoners. The extensive investigation that followed showed that the rest were killed by gunfire, and that the inmates never had access to firearms.

The terrible riot happened nearly 45 years ago. But now a new case of a brutal inmate beatomg by guards has resurrected many of the old ghosts.

A story by Tom Robbins, for both the Marshall Project and the New York Times, investigates the more recent incident, and also looks at it’s psychological resonance with the past.

The story concerns an inmate named George Williams, a 29-year-old African American man from New Jersey who was doing two to four years for robbing two jewelry stores in Manhattan. What happened to Williams occurred around 30 minutes after a noisy verbal exchange between a guard and an inmate, in which the guard swore, and the inmate swore back, then added a disrespectful and obscene suggestion, after the swearing.

Here are some clips detailing what happened next:

Inmates were immediately ordered to retreat to their cells and “lock in.” Thirty minutes later, three officers, led by a sergeant, marched down the corridor. They stopped at the cell of George Williams, a 29-year-old African-American from New Jersey who was serving a sentence of two to four years for robbing two jewelry stores in Manhattan.

Mr. Williams had been transferred to Attica that January following an altercation with other inmates at a different facility. He had just four months to serve before he was to be released. He was doing his best to stay out of trouble. His plan was to go home to New Brunswick and try to find work as a barber. That evening, Mr. Williams remembers, he had been in his cell watching the rap stars Lil Wayne and Young Jeezy on television, and missed the shouting on the cellblock. The guards ordered him to strip for a search and then marched him down the hall to a darkened dayroom used for meetings and classes for what they told him would be a urine test.

[SNIP]

Mr. Williams was wondering why a sergeant would be doing the grunt work of conducting an impromptu drug test when, he said, a fist hammered him hard on the right side of his rib cage. He doubled up, collapsing to the floor. More blows rained down. Mr. Williams tried to curl up to protect himself from the pummeling of batons, fists and kicks. Someone jumped on his ankle. He screamed in pain. He opened his eyes to see a guard aiming a kick at his head, as though punting a football. I’m going to die here, he thought.

Inmates in cells across from the dayroom watched the attack, among them a convict named Charles Bisesi, 67, who saw Mr. Williams pitched face-first onto the floor. He saw guards kick Mr. Williams in the head and face, and strike him with their heavy wooden batons. Mr. Bisesi estimated that Mr. Williams had been kicked up to 50 times, and struck with a dozen more blows from nightsticks, thwacks delivered with such force that Mr. Bisesi could hear the thud as wood hit flesh. He also heard Mr. Williams begging for his life, cries loud enough that prisoners two floors below heard them as well.

A couple of minutes after the beating began, one of the guards loudly rapped his baton on the floor. At the signal, more guards rushed upstairs and into the dayroom. Witnesses differed on the number. Some said that as many as 12 officers had plunged into the scrum. Others recalled seeing two or three. All agreed that when they were finished, Mr. Williams could not walk.

His ordeal is the subject of an unprecedented trial scheduled to open on Monday in western New York. Three guards — Sergeant Warner and Officers Rademacher and Swack — face charges stemming from the beating that night. All three have pleaded not guilty. An examination of this case and dozens of others offers a vivid lesson in the intractable culture of prison brutality, especially given the notoriety of Attica…

[SNIP]

After the beating ended, an inmate who was across from the dayroom, Maurice Mayfield, watched as an officer stepped on a plastic safety razor and pried out the blade. “We got the weapon,” Mr. Mayfield heard the guard yell.

Mr. Williams was handcuffed and pulled to the top of a staircase. “Walk down or we’ll push you down,” he heard someone say. He could not walk, he answered. His ankle was broken. As he spoke, he was shoved from behind. He plunged down the stairs, crashing onto his shoulder at the bottom. When guards picked him up again, he said, one of them grabbed his head and smashed his face into the wall. He was left there, staring at the splatter of his own blood on the wall in front of him.

An extensive investigation resulted. And on December 13, 2011, a New York state grand jury handed down criminal indictments against four Attica guards.

Inmates at Attica were stunned by the indictments as well. To them, the remarkable thing about the beating Mr. Williams endured that August night was not the cynical way in which it seemed to have been planned, or even the horrific extent of his injuries. What was truly notable was that the story got out, and that officers had been arrested and charged.

“What they did? How they jumped that guy? That was normal,” said a prisoner who has spent more than 20 years inside Attica. “It happens all the time,” he said. That view was echoed in interviews with more than three dozen current and former Attica inmates, many of whom made the rounds of the state’s toughest prisons during their incarceration. They cited Attica as the most fearsome place they had been held, a facility where a small group of correction officers dole out harsh punishment largely with impunity. Those still confined there talked about it with trepidation. If quoted by name, retaliation was certain, they said.

Those now beyond the reach of the batons described life at Attica in detail. Antonio Yarbough, 39, spent 20 years in the prison after being convicted of a multiple murder of which he was exonerated in 2014. Unlike Mr. Williams, Mr. Yarbough could go head-to-head with the biggest of Attica’s guards: He is 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds. But he said that fear of those in charge was a constant. “You’re scared to go to the yard, scared to go to chow. You just stay in your house,” he said, using prison slang for a cell.

That fear was palpable to Soffiyah Elijah when she visited Attica a few months before the beating of Mr. Williams as the Correctional Association’s newly appointed executive director. The organization holds a unique right under state law that allows it to inspect state prisons. “What struck me when I walked the tiers of Attica was that every person, bar none, talked about how the guards were brutalizing them,” Ms. Elijah said. “There are atrocities as well at Clinton and Auburn, but the problem is systemic at Attica.” In 2012, the association began calling for Attica to be shut down. “I believe it’s beyond repair,” Ms. Elijah said.

On Monday, a day after the publication of the above story, the case was unexpectedly settled when three of the guards accused of beating Williams so severely that doctors had to insert a plate and six pins into his leg, each pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor charge of misconduct. Tom Robbins and Lauren D’Avolio report for the New York Times about the last-minute plea deal that spared the three any jail or prison time in exchange for quitting their jobs.


CALIFORNIA STATE SUPREME COURT RULES AGAINST LAW SEVERELY RESTRICTING WHERE SEX OFFENDERS CAN LIVE

On Monday, in a unanimous decision, the California Supreme Court ruled that the residence restrictions imposed by the the 2006 voter approved Sexual Predator Punishment and Control Act—AKA Jessica’s Law—violate the constitutional protections laid out in the 14th Amendment.

Jessica’s Law prevents registered sex offenders from living within 2000 feet of a school or park where children gather, regardless of whether or not the offenders’ crimes involved children, or if the offender’s crimes suggested he or she posed any kind of credible future threat.

The law was challenged by four sex offender parolees in San Diego County who contended that the restrictions made it nearly impossible to find a place to live, thus undermining public safety by often forcing offenders into homelessness.

Jacob Sullum writing for Reason Magazine has more. Here’s a clip:

The state Supreme Court agreed, noting that the 2,000-foot rule excludes 97 percent of the land zoned for multifamily housing in San Diego County. Writing for the court, Justice Marvin Baxter said such an onerous burden, imposed without individual evaluation, cannot be justified even under the highly deferential “rational basis” test, which requires only that a law be rationally related to a legitimate government interest:

Blanket enforcement of the residency restrictions against these parolees has severely restricted their ability to find housing in compliance with the statute, greatly increased the incidence of homelessness among them, and hindered their access to medical treatment, drug and alcohol dependency services, psychological counseling and other rehabilitative social services available to all parolees, while further hampering the efforts of parole authorities and law enforcement officials to monitor, supervise, and rehabilitate them in the interests of public safety. It thus has infringed their liberty and privacy interests, however limited, while bearing no rational relationship to advancing the state’s legitimate goal of protecting children from sexual predators, and has violated their basic constitutional right to be free of unreasonable, arbitrary, and oppressive official action.

The court said residence restrictions are still permissible as a condition of parole, “as long as they are based on the specific circumstances of each individual parolee.”

The ruling technically only affects San Diego County, but opens up challenges for other California counties, especially those containing large cities.


NEW US AG LYNCH UNLIKELY TO BE CONFIRMED ‘TILL NEXT WEEK, BUT HOLDER HAS A TO DO LIST

While according to Politico, it appears that U.S. Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch will not be confirmed until next week. (She was nominated by President Obama in November to replace outgoing AG Eric Holder.) In the meantime, however, in the Washington Post, Holder has put forth a four point To Do list of “unfinished business” in the realm of criminal justice. Here are Holder’s big four:

1. RETROACTIVITY ON THE CRACK/POWDER FAIR SENTENCING ACT “First, although Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act to eliminate a discriminatory 100-to-1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine, thousands of individuals who committed crimes before 2010 are still serving sentences based on the old ratio. This is unfair. Congress should pass legislation to apply that statute retroactively…”

2. PASS A LAW RESTRICTING MANDATORY MINIMUMS “Second, while the Justice Department has declined to seek harsh mandatory minimum sentences in cases where they are not warranted, we need to codify this approach…”

3. ONCE YOU DO YOUR TIME, YOUR VOTING RIGHTS SHOULD BE RESTORED: “Third, in individual states, legislatures should eliminate statutes that prevent an estimated 5.8 million U.S. citizens from exercising their right to vote because of felony convictions….”

4. OPERATIONAL DRUG COURTS IN EVERY FEDERAL DISTRICT: Finally, we should seek to expand the use of federal drug courts throughout the country for low-level drug offenses. These programs provide proven alternatives to incarceration for men and women who are willing to do the hard work of recovery…

Posted in Homelessness, How Appealing, mental health, Mental Illness, prison, prison policy, Sentencing, Skid Row | No Comments »

9th Circuit Grants Bail Pending Appeal for LA Sheriff’s Dept. 7 Convicted by Feds — And Why We Care

March 2nd, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


On Friday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals granted bond to the seven former members
of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department convicted last year of obstruction of justice for their part in hiding FBI informant Anthony Brown from his federal handlers, and related actions.

The 9th first granted bond to former LASD deputy James Sexton, who was tried separately from the other six. (Actually, he was tried twice. Although he was convicted in September, 2014, his first trial, in the spring of last year, resulted in a six-six hung jury.) Then attorneys for the others were notified.

Sexton and the six were scheduled to surrender early this year to begin their various prison sentences—ranging from 18 to 41 months—but, although they were denied bail by Judge Percy Anderson, the original presiding judge in their respective trials, before their surrender dates arrived, the 9th granted all seven a stay—meaning their lock-up dates were put off while the appeals court figured out whether or not it was going to hear the cases.


OKAY, SO WHY DO WE CARE ABOUT BAIL?

The grant of bond—or bail as it is more commonly known—is significant, because, according to a source knowledgeable about the matter, this means that the three judge panel that issued the bond order thought, as the source put it, “there is a significant issue likely to result in reversal on appeal.”

The source cautioned, however, that the panel that granted the motion most likely won’t be the same three judges who will hear the case, so views of these three may not hold sway.

Yet, there is a possibility that the panel will stay the same, said our source. “I’m pretty sure the panel will shift, but sometimes on an expedited appeal (which this is) they may keep it.”



YES, BUT WILL THIS AFFECT FUTURE FEDERAL INDICTMENTS?

As we noted earlier, various members of the LA County Sheriff’s Department—present and former—were subpoenaed to testify in front of a federal grand jury in December of last year, and at the beginning of 2015. According to sources, those questioned were asked almost solely about the obstruction of justice issues for which the seven former LASD members just granted bond were convicted, in particular the actions of former sheriff Lee Baca, former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, and Captain Tom Carey who was relieved of duty in December of last year, pending an unnamed investigation.

One presumes that all this grand jury testifying has been in pursuit of some kind of additional indictments, although there is, of course, no guarantee.

Several we spoke to speculated, therefore, that the feds might be waiting to see the outcomes of the above appeals before moving forward with any new, high profile charges—if there are to be any such charges.

There has been, and continues to be, much criticism that, in indicting the seven convicted of obstruction—three of whom were deputies at the time, two were sergeants, and two were lieutenants—the feds were picking low-hanging fruit, so to speak, while leaving those who actually gave the orders that reportedly set the obstruction in motion, completely untouched.

In any case, this story is far from over, so…stay tuned.

Posted in Courts, FBI, How Appealing, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka | 23 Comments »

Scott Budnick, For-profit Foster Care, the Youth Welcome Center, and Reentry Employment

March 2nd, 2015 by Taylor Walker

SCOTT BUDNICK: FROM PRODUCING THE HANGOVER MOVIES TO FOUNDING THE ANTI-RECIDIVISM COALITION

Jesse Katz has an excellent longread profile for the California Sunday Magazine on Scott Budnick and his journey from pre-med student to Hollywood producer to full-time criminal justice reform champion.

Budnick began mentoring kids in Sylmar’s juvenile detention center more than a decade ago through the Inside Out Writers program.

Budnick, executive producer of the Hangover series, left Hollywood behind in 2013 in order to take on criminal justice activism full-time. Budnick says he has Dede Gardner, producer of 12 Years a Slave, to thank for his decision.

After the split, Budnick founded the Anti-Recidivism Coalition with a $400,000 grant from California Endowment. While ARC was in its earliest stages, Budnick was instrumental in pushing SB 260 (a law that gave a second chance at parole to kids who were convicted of murder before the age of 18 and sentenced to life-without-parole) through legislature and into Governor Jerry Brown’s hands. Budnick also used ARC as a platform to campaign for the passage of Proposition 47 in 2014.

Here are some clips from Katz’s profile:

If Budnick were a priest or a lawyer, even a counselor or a coach, these jailhouse pilgrimages would be easier to explain — his declarations not so incongruous. But until a bit more than a year ago, Budnick had a day job as a Hollywood producer, and not one devoted to bringing socially conscious, inspirational tales to the screen. As the number two at Green Hat Films, Budnick executive-produced the raunchy, uproarious Hangover movies, the top-grossing R-rated comedy franchise in history. For years it meant living a kind of double life, racing from the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank to Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar, interrupting conference calls to accept collect calls, burning through girlfriends once they realized he would rather be, as his official bio says, “walking the tiers of California jails and prisons on his nights and weekends” than a red carpet.

“These kids,” Budnick says, “are what give me life.”

At once earnest and hyperbolic, loyal and schmoozy, Budnick can come across as a character in one of his own films. When people first meet him, whether it be an inmate or a warden, a politician or a philanthropist, the initial reaction is almost always the same: “Who the fuck are you and what are you about?” his longtime mentor, Javier Stauring, who oversees the L.A. Archdiocese’s youth-detention ministry, says with a laugh. Budnick is not the likeliest crusader, in other words, to be redefining how California punishes and redeems.

[SNIP]

The break was unlikely, though, only if you did not know Budnick and his growing distaste for a business rife, he says, with “ego and selfishness and people that make every decision out of fear.” It was no coincidence, either, that he took his leave the same year that both The Hangover Part III and 12 Years a Slave hit theaters, the fierce moral compass of one making the other look even more aimless. After a day of guiding Dede Gardner, one of 12 Years’s Oscar-winning producers, around juvenile hall, Budnick credits her as the person “who changed my life, who made the movie that kicked me out of the business.”

Forgoing a paycheck at first and, he says, tapping much of his savings, Budnick began 2014 as a full-time activist, putting everything into the Anti-Recidivism Coalition — arc — a support and advocacy nonprofit he had begun in his garage. arc now has a $1.2 million budget, a paid staff of six, and an office in the downtown L.A. building that houses the rooftop lounge Perch. Instead of clients, arc has what Budnick calls “members” — 160 formerly incarcerated men and women, murderers and carjackers and tweakers — nearly all of whom he met and mentored while they were locked up.

“He is kind of an oddity,” says Robert Downey Jr., the onetime recidivist turned world’s highest-paid actor, who serves on arc’s board of directors. “In politics, usually, you try to align yourself with things that make you look as good as possible and disconnect with anything that’s the least bit tainted.”

Befitting a veteran of broad commercial entertainment, Budnick has chosen his moment shrewdly. After decades of throw-away-the-key policies, the nation is again considering the philosophy of second chances. With a growing number of conservatives daunted by the cost of mass incarceration, libertarians dismayed by the broad license to police that drug laws give the government, evangelicals committed to the promise of personal transformation, and the most crime-ravaged communities also the most crippled by tough-on-crime tactics, the movement defies easy labels.

California, a pioneer of three-strike sentencing laws, is now at a different forefront. In recent years, through ballot initiatives and legislative measures, the state has given breaks once unthinkable to thousands of felons: parole dates, sentence reductions, educational alternatives, employment opportunities. Budnick, campaigner and noodge, has had a hand in it all.

“When I first heard about him, I have to be honest with you: A white Hollywood guy? He can’t be real,” says Robert K. Ross, president and ceo of the California Endowment, the state’s largest health foundation. Then Budnick invited him to visit Men’s Central Jail in downtown L.A., where Ross was so moved by Budnick’s rapport with the inmates, he helped launch arc with a $400,000 grant. “Scott Budnick,” Ross says, “is the most extraordinary force in the state of California on badly needed incarceration and justice reform.”

[SNIP]

In the long run, Budnick dreams of removing every young person, 18 to 25, from the adult prison system and placing them on a campus with educational and therapeutic programs. He has been sketching plans for what he calls the California Leadership Academy for more than a decade — a Warner Bros. set designer helped with the earliest diagrams — and since his recent appointments to both the California Community Colleges Board of Governors and the Board of State and Community Corrections, he now has more platforms for making it happen. While still years away, the project just received an $865,000 endorsement in Governor Brown’s budget. This sweeping proposal, with all of its promise and uncertainty, is not rooted in an especially religious perspective, nor is it particularly ideological. If pressed, Budnick will repeat the axiom “hurt people hurt” — and its corollary, “healed people heal.”

We’ve written about Budnick before (and, full disclosure: he is a pal of WLA’s).


THE DEATH OF ALEXANDRIA HILL…AND THE PROBLEM OF PRIVATIZED FOSTER CARE

In July of 2013, two-year-old Alexandria Hill was murdered by her foster mother, a woman screened and supervised by Mentor Network, a huge for-profit foster care agency.

After Alexandria’s death, Mother Jones’ Brian Joseph dove into an 18-month investigation into the world of privatized foster care.

Overloaded and understaffed child welfare departments across the US turn to private foster care companies to pick up the slack. These for-profit companies receive a bunch of tax dollars to vet potential foster families, train them, place kids in their care, and supervise them.

And there’s not much oversight.

Joseph found that very few states are even keeping a record of how many kids are in private foster care. No states are collecting data on how many kids involved in private foster care are being abused. And no one is running the numbers on the cost difference between privately-run and government-run foster care.

Here are some clips from Joseph’s investigation:

With blond hair and blue eyes, Alexandria stood 32 inches tall and weighed just 30 pounds. She liked kitties and the color purple….

At about a quarter to seven that evening, Clemon Small woke from a nap and left for a meeting at a nearby restaurant, leaving Sherill alone with Alexandria and the infant. About 15 minutes later, Sherill dialed his number, then 911.

First at the scene was Ward Roddam, the chief of the Rockdale Volunteer Fire Department, who was so surprised to find no one in the front yard waving him down that he called dispatch to make sure he had the right address. Inside, he encountered what he would describe as one of the strangest scenes in his 25-year career: Alexandria’s limp body lay on the floor while Clemon sat on the couch and Sherill talked to 911. Roddam found mucus on Alexandria’s mouth, suggesting that CPR, which foster parents are trained to administer, had never been attempted.

On the witness stand 15 months later, Roddam was asked if the Smalls seemed panicked. “‘Panic’ does not describe it at all,” he said. They seemed “very calm.”

What happened in Rockdale that night would be the subject of a weeklong trial in the fall of 2014, focusing on the care of Alexandria. But it also opened a window into the vast and opaque world of private foster care agencies—for-profit companies and nonprofit organizations that are increasingly taking on the role of monitoring the nation’s most vulnerable children. The agency involved in Small’s case was the Lone Star branch of the Mentor Network, a $1.2 billion company headquartered in Boston that specializes in finding caretakers, or “mentors,” for a range of populations, from adults with brain injuries to foster children. With 4,000 children in its care in 14 states, Mentor is one of the largest players in the business of private foster care, a fragmented industry of mostly local and regional providers that collect hundreds of millions in tax dollars annually while receiving little scrutiny from government authorities.

Squeezed by high caseloads and tight budgets, state and local child welfare agencies are increasingly leaving the task of recruiting, screening, training, and monitoring foster parents to these private agencies. In many places, this arrangement has created a troubling reality in which the government can seize your children, but then outsource the duty of keeping them safe—and duck responsibility when something goes wrong.

Nationally, no one tracks how many children are in private foster homes, or how these homes perform compared to those vetted directly by the government. As part of an 18-month investigation, I asked every state whether it at least knew how many children in its foster system had been placed in privately screened homes. Very few could tell me. For the eight states that did, the total came to at least 72,000 children in 2011. Not one of the states had a statistically valid dataset comparing costs, or rates of abuse or neglect, in privately versus publicly vetted homes.

[SNIP]

The bottom line for private foster care agencies—whether large, for-profit corporations or small, local nonprofits—is tied to the number of foster parents on their roster, and thus their ability to place children quickly. Given that every foster parent represents potential revenue, Zullo says, an agency may be more likely to overlook sketchy personal histories or potential safety hazards. There’s little incentive, he adds, to seek out reasons to reject a family, to investigate problems after children are placed, or to do anything else that could result in a child leaving the agency’s program. And as tough as the margins are for nonprofit agencies, the perverse incentives are exacerbated at for-profit agencies that need to make money for owners or shareholders.

“What happens,” Zullo says, “is the lives of these children become commodities.”

In 2013, the California spent $308 million on private foster care. Joseph was given a glimpse inside Positive Option, a small Sacramento set-up that is in charge of 70 kids. Here’s a clip from what he found there:

Kovill, the cofounder, is an energetic 82-year-old with a white beard who continues to manage the organization on a day-to-day basis. Kovill feels a special kinship with the foster children he serves: He says he was abandoned by his father when he was about seven and given to a shoemaker as a laborer. “Foster care is a good system,” Kovill said. “I wish it had been there when I was a kid.” (Kovill told me he changed his name long ago to break from the family that abandoned him. He wouldn’t tell me what his old name was.)

Kovill told me the margins are tight in private foster care, especially if child welfare is your top priority. He said he once had to sell land he owned in Arizona to keep Positive Option, which has annual revenues of about $1.2 million, afloat. Some of his employees report taking 10 percent pay cuts several years ago for the same reason, cuts that remain in effect today. “I’m still a businessman, and I still try to stay in the black as best I can,” Kovill told me one day in the cramped office he shares with his wife, Luan, who works at the agency for free. “But if it meant a car seat for a baby, if it meant diapers for a baby, if it meant safety for a child, the bottom line is gone.”

Kovill took responsibility for Positive Option’s problems, saying they came about in part because he was distracted by the agency’s financial struggles during the recession. “I just trusted everybody to do what I do—I work hard,” Kovill said, referring to some former employees he eventually fired. “I figured they did too. Well, you can’t do that.”


WHERE DISPLACED FOSTER KIDS GO TO WAIT

The LA Times’ Garrett Therolf visited LA County’s Youth Welcome Center, the original purpose of which was to house kids new to the system while social workers placed them with foster parents or in group homes. Instead, the center, located at the Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, has come to serve as a sort of purgatory for hard-to-place kids, the ones who caregivers send back, like kids in their late teens, LGBTQ kids, and kids suffering from mental illness.

Here are some clips from Therolf’s story:

The center — outfitted with couches and televisions — was designed as a comfortable waiting room for children newly removed from their families; it was intended to house them for just one night while the staff tried to place them with a foster home.

Instead, the center has evolved into a holding facility for the most difficult to place youths who have been thrown out of foster homes. No one is turned away.

The facility is the last stop for some of the most desperate and extreme cases, a stark window on the difficulties of a child protection system that is burdened with maddening bureaucracy, a shortage of foster homes and crushing demands from a growing number of troubled children.

The youths who end up here are often older teenagers, sexual minorities, mentally ill or medically fragile. A significant number are involved in prostitution.

They stay here for nights, sometimes weeks, because there are so few homes willing to take them. Sometimes, the children refuse the homes offered to them and leave to live on their own. They come back sporadically to the center for a shower and a night’s rest — a respite from a life on the streets.

[SNIP]

Two of the system’s most debilitating pressures — the desperate shortage of foster homes and the swelling ranks of foster youths involved in prostitution — have conspired here to make this a place where social workers feel as though they are on a never-ending chase to find lasting foster homes for the children.

On this night, out of nearly 30 youths, only one has just entered foster care for the first time: Ruben, a small 13-year-old boy swimming in an oversized T-shirt….

Ashley spent her days in the department’s Torrance office to be near the social worker who was assigned to find her a new home. The worker was too busy to see her, however, and each night, she returned in a van to the Youth Welcome Center, where social workers take over the search on nights and weekends.

“When are you guys going to finally take me back to school?” Ashley asked the employees at the door.

“That’s not our job here at the YWC,” the woman with the clipboard replied.

“That’s not fair,” said Ashley, who was two grades behind in school.

She hoped to become a choreographer or child psychologist. She said, “I want to get my education.”


OP-ED: GOV. JOBS PROGRAM FOR RELEASED (AND SOON TO BE RELEASED) INMATES WOULD BE MUTUALLY BENEFICIAL

Boston saw a record-breaking “snowpocalypse” in February that is on track to break an even larger record: the snowiest season in Boston’s recorded history. All that snow buried streets, train tracks, cars, and even turned Nantucket waves into slush.

In addition to union workers and the National Guard, Boston has put county jail inmates to work shoveling the city out from under the snow. The inmates provide the labor for pennies on the hour.

In an op-ed for the Atlantic, Bruce Western and Linda Forman Naval say that local municipalities, taxpayers, and inmates would be better served if the government created a reentry job program—one that pays more than $.20 per hour and employs both incarcerated and newly released inmates.

The public maintenance jobs program would give those locked-up and recently released inmates a chance to make the money necessary for successfully transitioning back into life on the outside: for food, shelter, and paying back their debts. It would also fill a need on the city and county levels by building a public maintenance workforce, and on the individual taxpayer level by targeting recidivism.

Here’s a clip from the op-ed:

A regular government jobs program for formerly-incarcerated people could play a valuable role in maintaining public areas and infrastructure while assisting the transition from the prison to the community. Such a program would also provide a readily available workforce that could respond in moments of catastrophe.

Better yet, extending the program to provide real jobs to those who are about to be released would help them build a nest-egg to transition back into society. Pay all these workers the prevailing wage, and they will be able to afford rent and other necessities for successful reentry. And set up a payment plan so that former prisoners can pay back their debts, such as fines owed to the courts, once they are back up on their feet.

Such a payment plan for fees and fines would represent a big upgrade over the usual work-release programs. Financial obligations are usually deducted from the paycheck up front, and debt can follow formerly incarcerated people around for years. This erodes their incentive to work, makes crime more tempting, and absorbs money that might otherwise procure stable housing and other basic necessities.

People who have been incarcerated—mostly minority men with low-incomes and little schooling —continue to pay a price long after they have left prison. They often enter prison with close to nothing and return to society with little money to get established after incarceration.

Compounding the problem, they also face significant barriers to finding employment upon release.

Bruce Western is a sociology professor and the Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Professor of Criminal Justice Policy at Harvard University, and the director of the Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. Linda Forman Naval is Deputy Director of the Scholars Strategy Network.

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, jail, juvenile justice, LWOP Kids, Reentry | No Comments »

Women and Reentry, Obama Supports Smarter Sentencing Act, Former 3rd-Strikers Stay Out of Prison…and More

February 27th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

A NEW WAY OF LIFE: HELPING WOMEN ON THE OUTSIDE

in a story for Cosmopolitan, Jean Friedman-Rudovsky takes a look at how critical reentry programs are to combatting the nation’s sky-high recidivism rates, with a particular focus on women.

If they are lucky, when women are released from prison (and jail), they will be connected with services and programs to help them successfully reenter their communities. And while reentry and rehabilitation offerings are growing, the majority of women leaving prison still don’t receive the help they need to make it on the outside. More than half of women return to prison within five years.

In South LA, one sober-living transitional housing program,a New Way of Life (ANWOL), has an 80% success rate, and has helped more than 750 women reintegrate, go back to school, find jobs, stay sober, and navigate the piles of treatments and classes and meetings with their probation and parole officers.

ANWOL’s founder, Susan Burton, has a personal knowledge of prison’s revolving door, having cycled in and out of lock-up herself for 15 years.

Here are some clips from Friedman-Rudovsky’s story:

Tiffany Johnson felt excited, scared, and a little incredulous on the day she was released from Central California Women’s Facility, the largest women’s prison in the world. She’d done 16 years of her life sentence, which she got for killing her mother’s boyfriend — the man she says raped her every day from age 5 to age 10. As Tiffany exited the prison gates, two thoughts ran through her mind: “I can’t believe this is happening” and “It’s a trick.”

A few hours later, the mixed emotions distilled into fear. “I tried to take a shower,” recalled Tiffany of that April 2010 night. She turned on the water, but it came out from the tub faucet below and she couldn’t figure out how to get it to flow from above. “I cried and cried,” she said. “I felt like if this is a problem, just turning on a shower, what else am I going to run into? What other struggles am I going to have?”

The list began with the mundane, like learning to use a cell phone and getting used to closing a door herself to be alone in a room. Then there were real challenges. As a felon, she was banned from most low-income housing, and finding a job seemed near impossible. In prison she had become an expert electrician, supervising and training the other women in her penitentiary’s electrical sector. Yet every time she applied for a job, she had to check a box admitting her criminal history and never even got interviews. She finally contacted the electronic company her prison subcontractor supplied, figuring they’d give her a chance. “They didn’t,” Tiffany, now 46, said, rolling her eyes. “I served my time and I was out. But it didn’t matter. It’s like I was still serving a life sentence.”

[SNIP]

“Effective reentry programs are the exception to the rule in terms of women’s transitions back into society,” said Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project, a D.C.-based criminal justice research and advocacy organization. Hundreds of these programs have sprouted up over the years, but the supply is not nearly enough to deal with the demand, and few prison systems have adequate prerelease programs that inform women about their options. Though prisoners’ rights advocates hold prerelease seminars when they can, often inmates are left to find out about these services through word of mouth or chance. Tiffany learned about ANWOL from an offhand comment by a member of her parole board.

Though no one keeps track of the exact number of people released into reentry programs in the U.S., experts say the vast majority of newly released people land on their own and on the street. Women face all the challenges men do, plus added pitfalls, including limited job options, specialized housing needs, and social stigma. “Compared to 20 years ago, we have a greater understanding and concern about the situation for women,” Mauer said. But, he added, there’s a long way to go.

[SNIP]

Most parole and probation arrangements demand regular compliance checks, drug tests, limited contact with possible co-conspirators, restrictions on travel, group meetings, and frequent in-person reporting, on top of finding a job and place to live. “Who knows where she slept last night and you’re asking her to do all this?” said Evelyn Ayala, ANWOL’s case manager supervisor. “Disaster waiting to happen.”

Release practices are just part of the problem, Mauer of the Sentencing Project said. “Almost all our correctional systems say they are committed to reentry,” he said, “but the scale of what they do in practice is often pretty modest.” The trouble, he explained, is twofold: not enough programming to prepare women (or men) before they are released and the availability of services once they get out.

“When you get listed on parole, they are supposed to tell you everything that is available to you,” Tiffany said. “They don’t tell you all that. They just inform you that you have the right to get assistance from the parole agent.”


OBAMA BACKS SMARTER SENTENCING ACT TO CUT MANDATORY MINIMUM DRUG SENTENCES

President Barack Obama says he wants the bipartisan Smarter Sentencing Act to pass. (If you’re unfamiliar, the proposed legislation, sponsored by Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, would cut certain mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenses in half.)

Obama expressed his support of the bill at a meeting with members of Congress to discuss ways to fix the nation’s broken criminal justice system.

USA Today’s Gregory Korte has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

White House spokesman Frank Benenati said Wednesday that the White House is still reviewing the text of the legislation, but that “it certainly appears” that the Labrador proposal meshes with the president’s aims to “make our communities safer, treat individuals more justly and allow more efficient use of enforcement resources.”

Obama has signaled his support for sentencing changes as recently as Monday, when he praised governors who had signed similar bills at a White House dinner.

“Last year was the first time in 40 years that the federal incarceration rate and the crime rate went down at the same time,” Obama said. “Let’s keep that progress going, and reform our criminal justice system in ways that protect our citizens and serves us all.”

Labrador said that’s an important point for Obama to make. “The main obstacle is the perception that sentencing reform will lead to more crime. And I think the opposite is true,” he said. “The concern is that we want to continue to be tough on crime, but we want to be smart on crime.”

[SNIP]

“There’s a profound zeitgeist. There’s nothing as powerful as an idea whose time has come,” Booker said. “Well, this idea is coming and that power I think is gonna push something good through Congress.”


ONLY 4.7% OF CA’S FREED THIRD-STRIKERS RETURNED TO PRISON…10 TIMES HIGHER SUCCESS RATE THAN THE REST OF CA PRISONERS

Since the 2012 passage of Prop 36 (the Three Strikes Reform Act), more than 2000 inmates serving life-sentences for low-level “third-strike” offenses have been resentenced and released in California.

An average of 18 months after being freed, only 4.7% of former third-strikers are locked up again for new crimes, compared with the rest of California’s prison population, which has a recidivism rate of about 45% a year and a half after release. And when third-strikers return to lock-up, it is most often for a drug or burglary offenses.

Erik Eckholm, in today’s front-page NY Times story has more on the former lifers and why they are triumphing over the statistics. Here’s how it opens:

William Taylor III, once a lifer in state prison for two robbery convictions and the intent to sell a small packet of heroin, was savoring a moment he had scarcely dared to imagine: his first day alone, in a place of his own.

“I love the apartment,” he said of the subsidized downtown studio, which could barely contain the double bed he insisted on having. “And I love that I’m free after 18 years of being controlled.”

“My window has blinds, and I can open and close them!” he exclaimed to visitors the other day, reveling in an unaccustomed, and sometimes scary, sense of autonomy.

Mr. Taylor, 58, is one of more than 2,000 former inmates who were serving life terms under California’s three-strikes law, but who were freed early after voters scaled it back in 2012. Under the original law, repeat offenders received life sentences, with no possibility of parole for at least 25 years, even if the third felony was as minor as shoplifting.

Formerly branded career criminals, those released over the last two years have returned to crime at a remarkably low rate — partly because they aged in prison, experts say, and participation in crime declines steadily after age 25, but also because of the intense practical aid and counseling many have received. And California’s experience with the release of these inmates provides one way forward as the country considers how to reduce incarceration without increasing crime.

“I hope the enduring lesson is that all of these people are not hopeless recidivists,” said Michael Romano, director of the Three Strikes Project at Stanford Law School, which provides legal aid to prisoners and training to public defenders.


FREE MINDS INSPIRES TEENS BEHIND BARS, AND HELPS THEM ACHIEVE THEIR DREAMS ONCE RELEASED

In Washington DC, a non-profit jail book club, Free Minds, uses poetry as an emotional and creative outlet for teens behind bars, and provides them with a support system of reentry services and fellow alumni to keep each other on track and motivated (and to eat pancakes and share poetry with) once they are released. We’ve covered the healing power of poetry before: here, and here.)

The Washington Post’s Robert Samuels has more on the program, and the teens and young men who benefit from it. Here’s a clip:

…they stick together. The support system that strengthened them then is the one they are counting on to help them now that they’re out. The unlikely community has become an unlikely lifeline, as they try to defy the patterns that send ex-offenders back to jail.

They fall into a high-risk category: Juveniles tried as adults are 34 percent more likely than youth tried as juveniles to return to prison, according to a 2007 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The alumni of the book club have no interest in becoming part of this statistic. So they work together to create goals. They applaud when someone meets his goal, such as when Barksdale got a job working full time as a city maintenance worker. They share job leads and work out together and meet up for pancakes.

They particularly like to lead writing workshops, which is why they are at this English class on a January day.

Barksdale recites a poem he wrote in his sixth year of prison, at 22:

“The things we took up are guns, knives and bats, yeah, we be armed and strong

But how do you know it’s not right if you’re being taught wrong?”

Read more poetry from the young men of Free Minds, here. And go over to the Washington Post to watch participants share their poetry.


BOOSTS TO ARTS EDUCATION IN LA, INCLUDING PARTNERSHIPS WITH COMMUNITY ARTS PROGRAMS

The Los Angeles Unified School district is seeking to re-establish community arts education partnerships (once spurned) to bring art back into classrooms. The school district is also developing a formula to allocate arts funds more appropriately to schools and that need it most.

KPCC’s Mary Plummer has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

Pullens lauded the district’s recent announcement clearing the way for arts funding for low-income students, and pointed to new allocations this year that helped some of the district’s schools purchase items like art supplies.

He also said the district is working on a school survey to create an arts equity index that will change the way the district allocates arts funds. The index would measure how well schools are providing arts instruction and arts access to students. Originally planned for release last year, the index is now expected next month.

But Pullens also painted a grim picture of the district’s current arts offerings. He said about a third of the district’s middle schools currently offer little or no exposure to the arts. Some of the district’s students can go through both elementary and middle school without taking a single arts class, he said. Because of gaps in arts instruction, students who start learning an instrument in elementary school, for example, might not have classes to continue music study in their middle or high schools.

Posted in Homelessness, LAUSD, Obama, prison, Reentry | No Comments »

Prop 47 Report, Laptops in Lock-up, Prison Rape, and Training Teachers to Identify Abuse

February 26th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

EARLY ASSESSMENT OF PROP 47 IN LA, AND WHERE COUNTY AGENCIES THINK THE $$ SHOULD GO

At a county public safety meeting on Wednesday, LA County interim CEO Sachi Hamai presented a draft report assessing the county’s implementation of Proposition 47. (Prop 47 reduced certain low-level felonies to misdemeanors.)

At the behest of the Board of Supervisors, the CEO’s office worked with other county agencies—District Attorney, Sheriff’s Dept., Courts, Public Defender, and Alternate Public Defender—to pinpoint the programs and efforts that could qualify for and benefit from Prop 47 funding, and to gauge the effects of the legislation, thus far.

Of the state money saved by Prop 47, 65% is to go to mental health and drug programs for criminal justice system-involved people, 25% will be spent on reducing truancy and helping at-risk students, and 10% will go to trauma recovery centers for crime victims. But it is still not clear how that money will get portioned out to counties, or if there will be restrictions on what the counties want to do with their money.

Some of the efforts county agencies flagged as deserving of grant dollars included victim services and restitution, community-based mental health programs for Prop-47ers, urgent care centers, the New Direction diversion pilot program to keep kids in school, and a reentry program for kids in probation camps.

The report says that it is still too early to tell what long-term effects Prop 47 will have in Los Angeles. However, county agencies shared some short-term effects, including courts clogged with people seeking downgrade their felonies, and a fewer number of offenders signing up for mental health and drug rehab programs.

The LA Times’ Abby Sewell and Cindy Chang have more on the report. Here’s a clip:

By the end of January, according to the Sheriff’s Department, the decrease in narcotics arrests was even greater, 48% from a year ago.

Local criminal courts will process between 4,000 and 14,000 applications from pre-trial defendants who were arrested for felonies but can now petition to have their charges changed to misdemeanors, the report said. Another 20,000 applications could come from people currently incarcerated, the report said.

Another category of cases is expected to keep judges, prosecutors and public defenders busy: the people who have already served their time and can now change the felony on their criminal records to a misdemeanor. Those cases could top 300,000 and date back decades.

The report quantifies an expected impact on court-ordered drug and mental health treatment programs: a decrease in enrollment because defendants are no longer threatened with jail time. Sign-ups for the programs decreased from 110 defendants a year ago to 53 in the first three months after Proposition 47 passed.


TECH IN JUVENILE LOCK-UP PART 2: SAN DIEGO INVESTS IN COMPUTERS, TECH EDUCATION FOR KIDS BEHIND BARS

On Tuesday, we shared the first of Adriene Hill’s two stories for NPR’s Marketplace about correctional facilities that have taken meaningful steps toward bringing education up to par for kids behind bars by incorporating educational technology into the curriculum.

Hill’s second story takes place in the San Diego Kearny Mesa Juvenile Detention Facility, where every kid has a laptop to use in class.

In San Diego County, the Office of Education has spent $900,000 on computers and accessories for kids in juvenile corrections facilities. Teachers are being trained on how to use the computers to help teach lessons, and tech instruction is now on the docket. And with the added technology, lessons can be tailored to kids’ individual needs.

Here are some clips from Hill’s second story:

Since July 2013, San Diego County Office of Education has spent nearly $900,000 on computers, printers and software for its secure juvenile facilities. Soon every one of the 200 kids here will have access to a Chromebook in class. All the teachers are being trained to run a digital classroom and add tech to the curriculum.

But getting to this point took more than a big investment. It took a significant culture shift.

“At first, we were a little nervous. I’m not going to lie,” says Mindy McCartney, supervising probation officer, who is charged with keeping the youth here under control.

“Everybody thinks they are going to use [the laptop] as a Frisbee, or attack somebody, or they are going to tag it and break it,” she says. “And it simply hasn’t happened.”

There was also anxiety about turning on the internet, even though there were firewalls and monitoring systems in place.

“We hear ‘internet’ and ‘access’ and we automatically get very paranoid and think the worst-case scenarios,” McCartney says.

But, so far, McCartney says there have not been significant problems. Kids aren’t using laptops as weapons. They’re not sneaking messages to gang members on the outside. In fact, teachers say the technology has made their students here more engaged in what they’re learning. That’s exactly the type of progress experts say the juvenile justice system desperately needs to make.

[SNIP]

In many ways, educational technology is perfectly suited to kids in custody. Students who have committed crimes are constantly being yanked in and out of class. They have court hearings and meetings with probation officers.

“We do have a population that moves around a lot,” says teacher Yolanda Collier. She says when students have their own computers and some lessons are online, they don’t have to fall behind.

Say there are some supplementary stories, an interview…videos…and such, if I want.


TEENAGERS HOUSED WITH ADULTS, PRISON RAPE, AND WHAT MUST HAPPEN BEFORE INMATES ARE SAFE

The Marshall Project’s Maurice Chammah has an excellent longread chronicling the failures of the justice system to protect inmates from rape, and the gaps in the Prison Rape Elimination Act.

Chammah focuses, in particular, on the sexual violence inflicted on vulnerable teenage boys who are placed in adult detention facilities.

Chammah tells the harrowing story of “John Doe 1,” a 17-year-old repeatedly brutalized by adult men in multiple prisons. John’s experiences are all-too-common, especially in states where 16 and 17-year-olds are automatically charged as adults. Here are some clips:

The second time David raped him, John says David held a homemade weapon to his throat. It was a toothbrush, wired up with four or five shaving razors.

The third and fourth times, David just left the weapon on his desk, in clear view, and relied on John’s fear to keep him passive.

Then, one morning around 6 a.m., while out on the yard for recreation, John says he saw David receive a mesh laundry bag from a prisoner he didn’t know. He could see that it contained meat sticks and bags of chips. These kinds of exchanges were common; he figured the other prisoner might be trading the food for the use of his cell as a quiet place for tattooing or some other illicit activity. (Official policy forbade prisoners from visiting other cells, but officers frequently looked the other way.)

That afternoon, John returned to his “house,” as prisoners call their cells, and saw his cellmate’s key—in this prison, every inmate had a key to his own cell—sitting on the desk. His cellmate was in bed. Feeling greasy after his kitchen shift, John started to undress so he could take a shower. As he took off his pants, he saw the mesh bag of food. He looked over and realized the man in the bed was not David. It was the prisoner who had handed over the bag of food. The man rose from the bed, grabbed David’s toothbrush weapon, held it to John’s cheek, and forced him down. This prisoner had a jar of Vaseline, but it did not do much; after he left, John found blood on his clothes.

John says he was raped several more times by both his cellmate and strangers. He was forced to perform oral sex, and he still remembers brushing his teeth twice to get the taste out of his mouth. He never told medical staff about his anal bleeding because he felt embarrassed, though because of a foot injury he was able to get painkillers.

John would later be asked why he did not tell correctional staff, since in theory they could have taken steps to protect him. “I didn’t know what to do,” he said. He assumed the staff knew what was happening. From their station at the end of the hall, the officers would see men going in and out of his cell and they would not intervene. The rapists would put a towel over the cell door’s window, which was not allowed but must have been noticed by officers making their rounds. John says some of the officers would even make jokes, calling him a “fag,” a “girl,” and a “bust-down.”

Two months after his arrival, John finally reached a breaking point. Around 2 p.m. one day, David tried to touch the middle of his back. John pushed his hands away. David forced him up against a locker and wrapped his hands around John’s neck. John wrestled his way out, and emerged from the cell barefoot. Hanging a left, he ran to the guard station, and begged them to assign him to a different cell. He didn’t mention the rapes, only his cellmate’s attempt to choke him. The officers allowed John to grab his few possessions and move down the hall, closer to their station.

His new cellmate was not a predator, but by then John had been tagged as easy prey. Two days after he was moved, another prisoner cornered him in his cell and raped him. It seemed like other prisoners had figured out his schedule—when he would be alone in his cell, or in the shower. He was called a “fuckboy,” a term for the men who are “gay for pay,” trading sex for food or other favors, even though John said he never did.

[SNIP]

It is impossible to know how many of the teenagers sent to adult prisons in recent years have been sexually assaulted, in part because so many of them have been afraid to report. (Rape outside of prison is known to be under-reported, and the same is true within prison walls, especially because prisoners face the possibility of retaliation by both correctional staff and other prisoners.)

Some corrections officials have pointed out that sexual assaults regularly occur in juvenile facilities as well as in adult ones. But many non-violent crimes lead to probation, rather than incarceration, when they’re handled by the juvenile system, and a 1989 study found that prisoners under 18 in adult prisons reported being “sexually attacked” five times more often than their peers in juvenile institutions.


CALIFORNIA TEACHERS WILL NOW BE TRAINED TO IDENTIFY CHILD ABUSE

Thanks to a new state law, California teachers and other school employees are now required to take an online training course on how to identify child abuse and neglect, and how to report it.

KPCC’s Adolfo Guzman-Lopez has more on the issue. Here are some clips:

“Nothing is more important than the safety of our students,” Torlakson said in a written statement. “The new online training lessons will help school employees carry out their responsibilities to protect children and take action if they suspect abuse or neglect.”

[SNIP]

[Stephanie] Papas, who helped create the new two-hour online training, said the course will help employees tell if a child has been hurt from abuse or from an accident, for example.

“We have photos that are examples of, say, a welt that is in the shape of a belt buckle or a slap on a child’s cheek that’s left a hand imprint,” she said.

Posted in Child sexual abuse, District Attorney, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, mental health, prison, Public Defender, Rape | No Comments »

POSITIVE YOUTH JUSTICE: When Kids Make Amends to their Victims of Crime – by John Kelly

February 26th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



EDITOR’S NOTE: Our friends at the
Chronicle of Social Change have launched a series on a concept in the juvenile justice world called Positive Youth Justice. This is a strategy that helps kids who have landed in the system build on their strengths in order to create constructive pathways to reconnect with family, school, and community life—and, in so doing, to redefine their own futures.

We’re happy to say we will be publishing several chapters from their series here at WitnessLA.

In the first chapter, CSC looked at a program in Olympia, Washington that works to keep kids out of the juvenile justice system.

This week, they’ve profiled a program in Oakland, Calif., that uses a “community conferencing” model to mediate between juvenile offenders and their victims in such a way that promotes healing for both.

To find out more, read on!



RESTORATIVE JUSTICE: WHEN KIDS MAKE AMENDS TO THEIR VICTIMS

by John Kelly


HOW IT ALL STARTED

Restorative justice is a term that describes strategies in which offenders make amends directly to victims. Community conferencing is one type of restorative justice strategy, and it traces its origins to New Zealand.

It emerged in the late 1980s as a juvenile justice medium when New Zealand officials got serious about addressing the disproportionately high involvement of Maori youth in the system. Conferences have lowered the number of Maori youth who end up in court and sent to foster care as a result of delinquency.

“It’s not just a quirk of New Zealand,” said Liz Ryan, CEO of Youth First!, a nonprofit that advocates to reduce the use of incarceration in the juvenile justice system.

Ryan said conferencing was a frequently discussed topic at the World Congress on Juvenile Justice, held last month in Geneva, Switzerland. “[Restorative justice conferencing] is being replicated all over the world, and people are particularly discussing it in terms of racial and ethnic disparities.”

Pennsylvania native sujatha baliga (she does not capitalize her name) is the primary reason that community conferencing has gained a foothold in Alameda County. She moved to California in 2006 to do appellate work on death penalty cases after serving as a public defender in New York City.

In 2008 she received a Soros Justice Fellowship and used the time it afforded her to develop a community conferencing presence in Oakland. Her program started at Restorative Justice for Oakland’s Youth; when funding issues challenged the organization in 2010, she moved the conferencing program to another nonprofit organization called Community Works.

In 2011, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation awarded Community Works $1.05 million in federal block grant funding to divert “at least” 95 juveniles per year.

At the same time, the National Council on Crime and Delinquency (NCCD) hired baliga to lead its national restorative justice program.


THE PRACTITIONERS

Baliga now oversees the training of conference facilitators for Oakland, and she has also taught Oakland police officers how the program works.

In addition, she and Program Associate Nuri Nusrat lead NCCD’s technical assistance to other sites that are interested in importing their Oakland model. For example, in 2013 the Zellerbach Family Foundation funded a replication of the community conferencing program in San Francisco.

Yejide Ankobia, a veteran restorative justice practitioner in the Bay Area, serves as Community Works’ program manager for the conferencing program. She leads a staff of four facilitators and one administrative assistant.


THE SYSTEM

Youth are diverted to Community Works by the police or a prosecutor. Someone on staff will pursue the conferencing option with the youth and his or her parents.

Among the offenses for which youth are frequently diverted to conferencing: burglary, robbery and vehicle theft (see table).

A member of the Community Works conferencing team will make the initial outreach to youth who are recommended for diversion.

“One of the first things we tell them is, ‘Nothing you say to me can be used against you; we really don’t want you to catch a case,’” said baliga.

She recalls one early diversion in which two teens were arrested while attempting to break into a home in their neighborhood. A screen had been ripped open and a window had been damaged before the next-door neighbor called the police.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in juvenile justice, Positive Youth Justice | No Comments »

Job Changes, Investigations, & a Demotion for 3 LA Sheriff’s Dept. Captains – UPDATED

February 25th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

EDITOR’S FRIDAY UPDATE:

We often hear through the grapevine about personnel changes at the sheriff’s department. Some of what we hear turns out to be merely gossip. But in the cases outlined below, we were able to confirm the changes involving two captains and one acting captain. Moreover, refreshingly, when we contacted LASD spokespeople to ask about the personnel movements in question, although Undersheriff Neal Tyler could not talk directly about any of the cases, he confirmed what he could clearly and forthrightly—without any of the dodging we have sometimes experienced in past years.

Since this story was first posted, we have heard about possible additional changes. We will keep you up to date, as are able to verify the information we have received.



CHANGES & INVESTIGATIONS

In the past week, two captains and one acting captain of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department were variously transferred pending an investigation, relieved of duty pending an investigation, or simply demoted and moved to another assignment—an unusual number of LASD management figures to be subject to such changes all at once.

Here are some of the details:

Captain Robert Tubbs was relieved of duty last Thursday pending an internal administrative investigation, the department’s second in command, acting undersheriff Neal Tyler, confirmed to us on Monday. The investigation reportedly involves a potential policy violation.

Up until last week, Tubbs was the captain of the department’s Court Services Transportation Division, which is responsible for busing prisoners as needed from jails to over 50 LA County courts.

The second captain to be moved is Anselmo Gonzalez, who was the head of the North County Correctional Facility (NCCF), one of LA county’s northern jail facilities, located in Castaic, near Magic Mountain. Tyler confirmed that Gonzalez and four others under his command, have been transferred to assignments where they have no contact with inmates, pending an internal criminal investigation. “Those people have been reassigned to non-inmate contact jobs while investigators review evidence and conduct interviews,” Tyler said.

As to what kind of criminal investigation had triggered the moves, Tyler said it had to do with “inmate treatment and safety.” The actions being investigated were different from classic inmate abuse, he said. “It has to with our concern that inmates are treated humanely and safely, and their physical and other kinds of welfare are not jeopardized.”

The third supervisor to be moved was acting Captain Chris Brackpool, who was demoted to lieutenant and removed as head of Operation Safe Streets (OSS), the department’s gang unit. In the case of Brackpool, Tyler verified the demotion but he would not specify the reason. Yet, those familiar with the matter reported that Brackpool’s demotion had to do with uniforms.


THE UNIFORM ISSUE

This requires a little backstory.

Unlike the LAPD where there has long been a strong focus on appearance, in the last few years some parts of the sheriff’s department had gotten a little less—well—uniform, about uniforms. The patrol deputies still wore their regular tan and green class A uniforms (with shirts that come in long or short sleeves). The detectives still had the tradition of wearing suits or sport coats. But some of the specialized divisions were reportedly allowed—even encouraged—to have their own way of dressing. In the case of OSS, the variations evolved until most team members were wearing jeans- (of various shades and washes of denim), with t-shirts, tennis shoes, and green raid jackets, the latter the only nod to any kind of official garment.

When McDonnell was sworn in, he took over a department that was riven by factions, plagued by diving morale, and still reeling from years of negative publicity. One of the symbolic changes he made, as he had when he became chief of the Long Beach Police Department, was to institute a more consistent policy of dress for everyone—the OSS guys included. In other words, they were asked to start wearing uniforms.

In response to the new directive, Captain Brackpool reportedly sent out a memo to his OSS people that they didn’t need to worry about the sheriff’s new thingy about uniforms. They could carry on with their jeans and raid jackets—or a message reportedly to that effect.

Undersheriff Tyler confirmed the part about McDonnell desiring more formality of dress. “He came in here with extremely high standards of professionalism,” Tyler said, “demonstrated by how we talk to people and how we look in the field. He told me one time that he’s kind of a stickler for spit and polish.”

Some people have been more resistant than others to the new dictates, Tyler admitted. As a consequence, “the sheriff will have to make changes with people who are in key jobs that require more than grudging support—or grudging non-support.”

Whether that is indeed what happened with Brackpool, Tyler wouldn’t say.


THE TANAKA FACTOR

According to those close to the department, two of the three captains—namely Brackpool and Tubbs—- have had the reputation for being very strong Tanaka supporters. They’d both given to Tanaka’s past political campaigns for mayor of Gardena. And Tubbs was one of those department members who physically stood behind Mr. Tanaka when the former undersheriff announced his candidacy for sheriff at a press conference in August 2013.

Tubbs was also one of eight LASD supervisors who filed suit against former Sheriff Lee Baca in January 2014 alleging that each had been moved away from their desirable assignments to less desirable positions as a retaliation for supporting Tanaka. ((Tubbs had been moved into his recent Court Transportation post from a previous plum position as the head of Community Oriented Policing Services—–or COPS—a program over which Tanaka at one time reportedly exercised a great deal of control.

According to Tyler and others who work with McDonnell, the matter of who may or may not have prior loyalties to whom does not play a part in the new sheriff’s actions.

Yet it appears sure that there will be further alterations in personnel.

“He’s taking his time to really look at our department, how we have it organized—both personnel and systems—and thinking clearly and analytically about where changes ought to be made,” said Tyler of McDonnell. “This means there will be job swaps and promotions, and potentially demotions. There will be some hard decisions to make. “

Posted in Jim McDonnell, LASD | 67 Comments »

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