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NY Ends Solitary Confinement of Kids, LA Times Book Award Finalists Announced, People of Color in Private Prisons…and More

February 20th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

NY BECOMES LARGEST PRISON SYSTEM IN THE US TO BAN ISOLATION OF INCARCERATED KIDS

On Wednesday, the state of New York agreed to stop using solitary confinement as a punishment for inmates under 18, in response to a New York Civil Liberties Union lawsuit. The state will also limit its use of solitary confinement for other inmates: it will no longer be an option for disciplining pregnant prisoners, and isolation of the developmentally disabled will be capped at 30 days.

NY Times’ Benjamin Weiser has the story. Here’s a clip:

State correction officials will also be prohibited from imposing solitary confinement as a disciplinary measure for inmates who are pregnant, and the punishment will be limited to 30 days for those who are developmentally disabled, the court filing says.

The agreement imposes “sentencing guidelines” for all prisoners, specifying the length of punishment allowed for different infractions and, for the first time in all cases, a maximum length that such sentences may run, the civil liberties group said. No such guidelines exist, except in cases involving certain violent and drug-related offenses.

“New York State has done the right thing by committing to comprehensive reform of the way it uses extreme isolation, a harmful and inhumane practice that has for years been used as a punishment of first resort” in the state’s prisons, said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the organization.

Several states, including Colorado, Mississippi and Washington, had begun to address the issue of how to reduce the use of solitary confinement; a Senate judiciary subcommittee is holding a hearing next week on the issue.

Taylor Pendergrass, the lead lawyer in the case for the civil liberties group, said a small number of states had also banned or limited the use of solitary confinement for inmates under 18, in adult or juvenile detention facilities.

But given New York’s size and visibility, the agreement places the state “at the vanguard” of progressive thinking about how to move away from “a very punitive system that almost every state has adopted in one form or another over the last couple of decades,” Mr. Pendergrass said.

[BIG SNIP]

Under the agreement, 16- and 17-year-old prisoners who are subjected to even the most restrictive form of disciplinary confinement must be given at least five hours a day of outdoor exercise and programming outside of their cells. The state must also set aside space at designated facilities to accommodate the minors who would normally be placed in solitary confinement.


LA TIMES BOOK AWARD FINALISTS

The finalists for the LA Times Book Awards were announced on Wednesday.

This year, WLA’s editor judged Current Interest in nonfiction, of which there were five outstanding books shortlisted:

“Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital” by Sheri Fink (Crown)
“Thank You for Your Service” by David Finkel (Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
“Detroit: An American Autopsy” by Charlie LeDuff (The Penguin Press)
“Manifest Injustice: The True Story of a Convicted Murderer and the Lawyers Who Fought for His Freedom” by Barry Siegel (Henry Holt & Co.)
“Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief” by Lawrence Wright (Knopf)

There are a number of great books in every other category, as well, so go check out the rest of the finalists. Award winners will be announced on April 11 (followed by the LAT Festival of Books on April 12-13 at USC).


HIGHER RATE OF PEOPLE OF COLOR HELD IN PRIVATE PRISONS THAN PUBLIC PRISONS

An even larger racial disparity exists in private prisons than in public prisons, according to a new study by UC-Berkeley researcher Christopher Petrella. All nine states analyzed in the study, including California, showed higher percentages of people of color in private prisons than in public facilities.

Mother Jones’ Katie Quandt has more on the study’s implications (including some very helpful graphs). Here’s a clip:

Once sentenced, people of color are more likely than their white counterparts to serve time in private prisons, which have higher levels of violence and recidivism (PDF) and provide less sufficient health care and educational programming than equivalent public facilities.

The study compares the percentage of inmates identifying as black or Hispanic in public prisons and private prisons in nine states. It finds that there are higher rates of people of color in private facilities than public facilities in all nine states studied, ranging from 3 percent in Arizona and Georgia to 13 percent in California and Oklahoma. According to Petrella, this disparity casts doubt on cost-efficiency claims made by the private prison industry and demonstrates how ostensibly “colorblind” policies can have a very real effect on people of color.

Private prisons have consistently lower rates of older inmates because they often contractually exempt themselves from housing medically expensive—which often means older—individuals (see excerpts from such exemptions in California, Oklahoma, and Vermont), which helps them keep costs low and profits high. This is just another example of the growing private prison industry’s prioritization of profit over rehabilitation, which activists say leads to inferior prison conditions and quotas requiring high levels of incarceration even as crime levels drop. The number of state and federal prisoners housed in private prisons grew by 37 percent from 2002 to 2009, reaching 8 percent of all inmates in 2010.

(Read on.)


ASSEMBLING AN LASD CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT COMMISSION

In an LA Times editorial (part two in a series this week), Robert Greene says that a civilian oversight commission for the LASD should not be comprised of five members chosen by the five LA County Supervisors. This format would not be far enough removed from the influence of the Board of Supervisors to provide real, independent oversight, he says. Instead, the board should consider a larger number of commissioners, appointed, in part, by people other than the Supervisors.

Here are some clips:

The size and composition of a citizens’ oversight body is inextricably linked both to its mission and to the nature of the authority to which it reports. If it’s a five-member panel, with each member appointed by and answerable to the supervisors, why not just have the supervisors exercise oversight directly? Isn’t that what we already have, and what already failed to hold the sheriff to account for the beatings of jail inmates, the inept hiring of deputies, the enormous liability payouts?

In fact, such a commission might be even worse than the status quo, because it would provide a misleading veneer of independence and lend political cover to the supervisors, who could attempt to pull the sheriff’s strings via their commission appointees without being quite as obvious about it.

Consider, for example, the 10-member redistricting commission that the supervisors appointed in 2010 to redraw the county election map. In this case, each supervisor got two appointees, all of whom are fairly well-regarded people, but all of whom were selected to in at least some sense do the bidding of the supervisor who appointed them. They voted accordingly, becoming proxies for the supervisors. It was obvious whose bidding they were doing. Why bother with such a commission?

No doubt members of the Board of Supervisors would protest: We never told our Boundary Review Committee appointees how to vote! But they didn’t have to. The appointees knew who they were working for, and they knew that they could be replaced.

There was far less of a concern with the seven-member Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence, the panel that the Board of Supervisors created and appointed in 2011 to examine improper use of force in county jails and recommend corrective action.

Yes, each of five members was appointed by a county supervisor. But then those five appointed two more, establishing a measure of separation from the board.

[SNIP]

The mission was limited, as was the panel’s duration. And because the same news stories and lawsuits that moved the board to create the commission also focused public attention on its proceedings, there was little chance of supervisors trying to sway their appointees without being noticed.

But a permanent commission to oversee the Sheriff’s Department would continue to operate during times of both great and paltry public attention, and would have to resist influence by the Board of Supervisors or, again, what’s the point?

Posted in juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, prison, racial justice, solitary | No Comments »

Feds Address Contra Costa Juvenile Hall’s Use of Solitary Confinement…a Call for LASD Oversight…and DCFS Simulates Home Visits for Social Worker Trainees

February 19th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

JUSTICE AND EDUCATION DEPTS JUMP INTO LAWSUIT AGAINST CONTRA COSTA’S ISOLATION PRACTICES IN JUVENILE HALL

Both the US Department of Justice and Department of Education has intervened in a federal lawsuit challenging Contra Costa County’s solitary confinement of mentally disabled kids, and the lack of education provided to them while in isolation. A statement of interest by the DOJ and DOE requested that the presiding judge deny motions to dismiss the case and asked that both departments be able to take part in the oral arguments.

The Contra Costa Times’ Matthias Gafni has the story. Here’s a clip:

The Justice Department’s filing quoted findings from a departmental task force that concluded:

“Nowhere is the damaging impact of incarceration on vulnerable children more obvious than when it involves solitary confinement.” It said such confinement could lead to “paranoia, anxiety and depression” and creates a risk of suicide.

The lawsuit was filed last August by Berkeley-based Disability Rights Advocates, along with a pro-bono law firm and a private firm, on behalf of a teenage girl and two boys, all of whom were or are still detained at the maximum-security, 290-bed Martinez facility.

In March, a San Francisco federal judge will rule whether to grant class-action status to the suit, allowing other disabled youths to sue the county Probation Department, which runs juvenile hall, and the Contra Costa Office of Education, which runs the McKinley School inside the facility.

An attorney representing the teens said the solitary confinement policy is from the “Dark Ages.”

“We do know that Contra Costa is probably one of the worst,” said Marie-Lee Smith, Disability Rights Advocates’ managing attorney. “There are many counties that do not use solitary confinement. It’s very troubling and very disturbing to see a county continue to use this form of discipline.”

Smith said it was extremely rare for the Justice Department to weigh in on a lawsuit, and even more unusual for federal education officials to join. In a Feb. 13 filing, the feds voiced concerns over using solitary confinement to punish detained youths, citing a 2002 Department of Justice study finding such treatment led to mental problems and even additional suicide attempts.

Unlike jails for adults, under state law juvenile halls are required to provide a “supportive homelike environment” and focus on rehabilitation, not punishment. Punishments based on a youth’s disability must be treated differently from other discipline, and facilities must provide schooling, including special education, even if youths are being disciplined, according to state law.

The suit also alleges the county fails to provide adequate special education opportunities for all disabled youths.

(The LA Times’ Lee Romney also reported on this issue.)


EDITORIAL: THE LASD TROUBLES ARE NOT OVER YET

So far, 20 members of the LA County Sheriff’s Dept. have been indicted as part of a federal investigation, and there are almost surely more indictments to come. Sheriff Lee Baca retired abruptly at the end of January, and the LA County Board of Supervisors chose OC Undersheriff John Scott to take over as interim sheriff until the November election (or the June primary, at the earliest). Moreover, all the recommendations made by the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence are—at least theoretically—on their way to being implemented.

But do these things herald the end of an era of LASD corruption and misconduct scandals?

In an LA Times editorial, Robert Greene says the crisis isn’t over yet, not by a long shot, and won’t be until there is permanent and meaningful oversight of the department. It is time to really start the discussion, he says. Here are some clips:

…We are not done. The system did not work. The system, in fact, is at the core of the culture that pervades the Sheriff’s Department even in years in which the anguish of abused inmates and their families, the outrage of deputy cliques with their own gang-like tattoos and codes of silence, the astonishing number of deputies arrested for drunk driving don’t make it to the headlines or don’t catch the interest of voters.

The system of an elected sheriff in a county of 10 million people, the vast majority of whom aren’t served by his deputies and need not pay attention to his department’s travails, is an anachronism.

But of course, that invites a host of questions: If the sheriff isn’t elected, who should appoint him? Would the Board of Supervisors, also protected by a veneer of democracy without facing any serious electoral challenge, do a better job of running the Sheriff’s Department than the sheriff? Would the supervisors be better at picking a sheriff than they were in recent years at picking a chief probation officer or a director of the Department of Children and Family Services? What is the value of added accountability if the sheriff merely is subject to the direction of others who are virtually unaccountable?

[SNIP]

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas introduced a motion last September, when Baca was still in office and still considered likey to be reelected, that would create a five-member citizens oversight commission, appointed by and reporting to the Board of Supervisors. Gloria Molina seconded it. But Ridley-Thomas has repeatedly pulled the matter from the agenda, suggesting a struggle to find a third, and winning, vote.

The matter is on the calendar to come before the board again next Tuesday — but to date there has been little public discussion of the proposal’s merits and pitfalls.

It’s time for that discussion. Some of it must necessarily be wonky, dealing with balances of power and political theory; and some of it must be mercilessly pragmatic (why, for example, would any elected sheriff ever pay such a commission any mind?)…


NEW SIMULATION ROOM PREPS DCFS WORKERS FOR THE CHALLENGES OF REAL LIFE HOME VISITS

As part of the LA Department of Children and Family Services training system overhaul, new social workers are sent into a simulation house where role-players reproduce home visit scenarios to prep the social worker trainees for the realities of protecting LA’s 35,000 DCFS-involved kids.

DCFS has also increased the total training time social workers receive from 8 weeks, to a full year of instruction before being sent out in the field.

The LA Daily News’ Christina Villacorte has the story. Here are some clips:

Entering a home where a father may have broken his baby’s arm in a drunken rage, the rookie social workers tried to soften the family’s guarded apprehension — albeit not always successfully.

“I’m with the Department of Family and Children’s Services,” one nervously told the sullen man who opened the door, even incorrectly stating the name of their agency.

Another rookie sat hesitantly on a couch in a cluttered living and dining room, not noticing the scissors on a coffee table, which could have been used as a weapon had tensions escalated.

Fortunately, no one was in real danger.

The “home” is a simulation laboratory where trainers from the county’s Department of Children and Family Services can collaborate with teachers from various universities as well as law enforcement and legal consultants to help the next generation of social workers.

“It’s OK to make mistakes here,” academy instructor Beth Minor told a class, standing next to a prop refrigerator with a whisky bottle and flyer for Alcoholics Anonymous.

“When you go out in the field and it counts, we want you to take the lessons that you learned here, and apply them.”

[SNIP]

Cal State Los Angeles agreed to build a 440-square-foot residential simulation laboratory with a facade, living and dining room adjacent to the kitchen, bedroom, bathroom and hallway closet for about $17,000. University officials also allowed trainers to use a second simulation lab, resembling a hospital room, that was built years ago for medical courses.

“The simulation is the cornerstone of the new training,” said Harkmore Lee, director of Cal State Los Angeles’ Child Welfare Training Center and a former social worker. “This is where their learning becomes concrete, and also where we can assess whether they’re getting it or not.”

Research has shown that people typically retain from 5 percent to 10 percent of what they learn through reading and lectures, and 80 percent to 90 percent of what they practice in simulation, said James Ferreira, Cal State Long Beach’s Child Welfare Training Center director.

Posted in DCFS, Education, Foster Care, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, Sheriff John Scott, Sheriff Lee Baca, solitary, The Feds | 48 Comments »

Does a Newly Surfaced E-Mail Tie Paul Tanaka to the FBI’s Obstruction of Justice Case….& More

February 18th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


An internal sheriff’s department email
that has recently surfaced appears to link former undersheriff Paul Tanaka to the operation to hide FBI informant Anthony Brown from his federal handlers.

Thus far, seven members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department have been indicted for their alleged part in the hiding Brown in the summer and early fall of 2011.

In all, 20 from the department have been charged as part of the still widening federal investigation into corruption in the LASD.

But it is the indictment of two lieutenants, two sergeants, and three deputies around the Brown issue that has triggered the most speculation about whether or not the indictment list will travel farther up the line and, if so, how far up.

Department members who have spoken to us on the subject have maintained that the two teams involved with the twinned schemes to keep informant Brown away from any and all federal agents—and then to question him about what he told the feds—could not have assigned themselves to those tasks. The idea that a couple of lieutenants would order and execute such actions on their own is simply not credible, said LASD sources.

(Go here for our previous reporting on the Brown-hiding strategy that came to be known as Operation Pandora’s Box.)

Then around three weeks ago, WitnessLA obtained the internal sheriff’s department email that mentions Paul Tanaka in relationship to Brown.

NOTE: Both the LA Times and ABC-7 obtained the same email, and have each come out with their own stories on Sunday and Monday, respectively. More on that in a minute.

The email was written by Deputy Gerard Smith and addressed to the members of the fourteen-man team tasked with hiding Brown, plus two department supervisors.

It reads in part:

If you are getting this Email, you have been signed up to work this very important detail. I am in charge of security and scheduling for this detail. Please don’t let me or the unit down. …. There will be no other movement [of Anthony Brown], without the presence of the following people: US Tanaka, ICIB Cpt. Tom Carey, ICIB LT. Leavins, LT. G. Thompson, Dep. G. Smith or Dep. M. Manzo.

Of the six people listed, the last four people— Lieutenant Stephen Leavins, Lieutenant Greg Thompson, Deputy Gerard Smith, and Deputy Mickey Manzo—have all been indicted. The remaining two—Captain Tom Carey and former undersheriff Paul Tanaka—have not.

Farther down in the email, Smith writes:

To keep yourself free of any controversy don’t talk to him [Brown], let the approved, above listed people deal with Browns [sic] issues

By “the approved, above listed people” he clearly means Tanaka and the other three.

And then Smith writes this:

It has been expressed to me (several times now) that this is one of the most important investigations involving The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, in its 160 year history. No joke……

None of our sources seem to know who would have been most likely to have made the statement to Smith about the Brown matter being so terribly important.

But whatever its provenance, such a pronouncement would likely have had a strong effect on those who received the email, said our sources, especially given the inference that it came from someone much further up the line.

“This kind of thing would have placed tremendous pressure on these young jail deputies,” an LASD supervisor who works the jails now told me. “When their superiors tell them something is important, they don’t want to stumble. They don’t want fail.”

Here’s a clip from Robert Faturechi’s LA Times article on the email in which Paul Tanaka talks about his reaction to the information contained in the email.

Tanaka said in a statement to The Times that he had a minimal role in the Brown matter — known inside the department as “Operation Pandora’s Box” — and that he did nothing improper or illegal. He also said he does not recall being made aware of the contents of the email before it was sent.

“While I was involved in some aspects of the implementation of these orders, I was not involved in or had knowledge of other aspects and my name was sometimes used without my knowledge or consent because of my position,” he said in the statement.

Here’s a clip from the ABC 7 story:

Multiple sources who were directly involved in the Brown operation told Eyewitness News they were told by the indicted Lt. Greg Thompson that if anyone questioned what they were doing with inmate Brown, they should instruct that person to call then-undersheriff Tanaka.

A similar story comes in sworn deposition testimony from Lieutenant Katherine Voyer. She was working at the downtown jail complex in the summer of 2011 and testified about the orders she received: “No federal agents were allowed in the facility and if they came with the writ, call Mr. Tanaka’s cell phone, personal cell phone.”

“Mr. Tanaka was very hands-on in how he handled this department,” said Brian Moriguchi, president of the L.A. County Professional Peace Officers Association. “So he knew pretty much everything that was going on in this department.”

Moriguchi’s union represents some of those indicted.

The email is supported by some of the reports we’ve heard from sources who worked on the team that hid Brown. For instance, one recalled an instance in which Brown was moved to a cell in the out-of-the-way the San Dimas station, at which time the deputies present were confronted by a watch commander who wanted to know what they hell they were doing bringing this mystery inmate in so late at night. According to our source, the deputies told the watch commander that they should check with Undersheriff Tanaka if they had a problem.

The watch commander stalked off for a few minutes then reappeared and reportedly everything was fine.



AND IN OTHER NEWS…

AN ANN ARBOR HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT WRITES A LEGAL BRIEF ARGUING THAT JUVENILE LIFERS DESERVE A SECOND CHANCE

The Detroit Free Press ran the story on their front page. Here’s a clip from the opening. But her actual brief is worth reading.

Sixteen-year-old Matilyn Sarosi spent the recent spate of snow days off school writing an 18-page paper for which she will get no academic credit.

Instead of the paper being graded by a teacher at Father Gabriel Richard Catholic High School in Ann Arbor, Sarosi hopes the justices of the Michigan Supreme Court will give her brief thoughtful consideration.

Sarosi’s amicus, or friend of the court brief, argues that Michigan prison inmates who were sentenced to life for crimes, such as murder, committed when they were younger than 18 now deserve a chance at parole. The legal brief was submitted Friday to the state Supreme Court, which is to hold a hearing on the issue March 6.

“I was really kind of shocked at the issue, the injustice of it all, and the magnitude,” said Sarosi, an honor student and public speaking events competitor. “I’m a teenager and I know my peers. We make impulsive, immature decisions. We make dangerous decisions. But if you give up hope on our youth and kids, you’re giving away our future.”


LA POLICE COMMISSION MAY REVISE THE WAY OFFICER INVOLVED SHOOTINGS ARE JUDGED

The LA Times Joel Rubin has the story. Here’s a clip:

The Los Angeles Police Commission is poised to adopt a major shift in the way it judges police shootings, tying an officer’s decision to pull the trigger to his actions in the moments leading up to the incident.

The rule change, which will be taken up Tuesday, would settle years of debate over whether the commission can make a determination that a shooting violated department policy if the officer created a situation in which deadly force was necessary. Until now, the commission has generally focused on the narrow question of whether an officer faced a deadly threat at the moment he opened fire.
“This is one of the most significant policy decisions we’ve made in my seven years on the commission,” Robert Saltzman said.

Although only a few words would be added to the existing policy, Saltzman said, “the clarification is significant. Some have interpreted our current policy to suggest the commission should ignore all the officer’s pre-force activity, no matter how relevant those earlier actions are.”

The proposal was submitted by the commission’s inspector general, who reviews officer shootings and makes recommendations to the commission on whether they fall in or outside department policy. Along with Saltzman, it has won the support of commission President Steve Soboroff.

Really, the clip is only an opener. Read the whole story to see the logic involved in the decision the commission is considering.

Wherever you personally come down on this issue, I guarantee you’ll find it interesting.

Posted in 2014 election, FBI, juvenile justice, LA County Jail, LAPD, LASD, LWOP Kids | 21 Comments »

GARAGE GATE: The LA Times, Mark Ridley-Thomas & the Scandal that Isn’t

February 14th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



WHY IS THE LA TIMES STILL REPORTING ON MARK RIDLEY-THOMAS’ GARAGE?

As of this week, the LA Times has published six articles on the matter of installing a tax-payer-funded security system in LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’ refurbished garage.

“Garage-Gate” is the way LA Weekly’s Dennis Romero has wryly tagged the Times’ series of provocatively-headlined reports (one of which was even featured on the paper’s front page).

If you somehow have have missed reading this investigative juggernaut, here are a few of the basic facts:

Because they are public figures, the LA County Supervisors are each urged to have security systems installed in their homes at the county’s expense. Gloria Molina has one. So does Don Knabe. Zev Yaroslavsky has a security system that the county put in during his first term and it is reportedly still working just fine. We’re not sure about Mike Antonovich, but it is generally presumed that he has a system too, but that it was put in quite a while ago.

Mark-Ridley Thomas also has a system. His was installed early last October in the converted garage that he has started using as his home office. The Ridley-Thomas system cost the taxpayers of LA County $6,278.61—which is about a thousand dollars less than Molina’s cost. (We don’t know the costs of the other supervisors’ systems.)

It seems, however, that when MRT’s security system was put in, the county workers also mounted a flat screen TV, and installed an air conditioning unit and a 4.3 cu ft. mini-fridge, bringing the total cost of the county’s work to around $10,038.

(If you’re curious, you can see photos of the extra items we’re talking about if you click on the various links above.)

In addition to installing them, the county guys picked up and bought the AC unit, the mini-fridge and the TV.

On October 23—a couple weeks after the work on the garage was completed—the county CEO’s office sent MRT two invoices totaling $3,759.39 for the extra work, and the purchases.

Invoice1
Invoice2

On October 29, the supervisor paid the invoices by check. (The very check in question is pictured at the top of this post.)

End of story, one would think.

But one would be wrong.

The LA Times began reporting on the matter in mid-January in response to a tip.


ITS ALL ABOUT THE WOOD PANELS

January was a busy month, so I didn’t catch up with the reporting on this pressing issue until story number 3, which ran on January 19.

(Here is story 1 and story 2.)

The headline and the subhead for this newest story caught my eye as they seemed to suggest real wrongdoing:

Work at Ridley-Thomas’ residence went beyond security system: taxpayer-funded project to install the system at L.A. County supervisor’s residence included other improvements, interviews and records show.”

When I finished reading the Times’ account, however, I was confused. So where exactly was the….you know….story here?

Although the Times reporters had made public records act requests, the county counsel’s office was slow to hand over the required information. So, the reporters had not yet gotten their hands on any proof of MRT’s reimbursement for the cost of the TV, mini-fridge and AC unit. Still it appears they’d heard about it.

The other issue that that seemed to alarm the Times’ folks was whether or not the county workers really had to take out some wall panelling to install the necessary wiring for the project. (Then, after it was taken out, the missing panelling was replaced with drywall, which then had to be painted.) The workers also dug a trench across the yard to the garage to bury the wiring that brought the necessary power to the outbuilding, a fact that the reporters mentioned several times, suggesting that all this trench digging might be suspicious too.

In an effort to further illuminate the the paneling problem, the LA Times reporters located a security system expert in Tenafly, New Jersey, who opined that the wood paneling likely didn’t really need to be taken down.

That was pretty much all there was when it came to anything that purported to be newsworthy-–although the piece ran more than 1000 words.

Hmmmmm, I thought. As the daughter of a construction engineer, the sister of a mad do-it-yourselfer, and the mother of 28-year-old software engineer who, in his much younger years, did systems wiring for several small companies, I know that, without seeing the actual site, one would be unwise to opine from afar about whether or not one has to take down a section of wall paneling to properly wire a new…anything.

So why in the world did the Times have two reporters chasing this tepid thing, with a third reporter listed as having contributed?

I am not personally acquainted with one of the two reporters who were bylined in the series. But I do know the other to be an excellent journalist whose work I normally admire and respect a great deal.


THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S OFFICE STEPS IN…OR NOT

When Story number 4 and story number 5 ran about whether or not Ridley-Thomas should have gotten building permits to put in the new system and install the TV or whatever, they seemed to be the same weak soup.

Then finally story number 6 showed up in our LA paper of record this week.

“D.A. probes work on Ridley-Thomas’ garage” the headline announced.

The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office is looking into whether thousands of dollars in taxpayer money was misspent on improvements to Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’ home last year, an office spokeswoman said Tuesday.

That didn’t sound good. If the DA’s office was looking into the security system hullabaloo, surely there must be something to it.

Looking for clarification, I called the district attorney’s office and talked to their main spokeswoman, Jean Guccione.

Guccione told me that, yes, they were investigating the matter, but they were doing so in response to a citizen’s complaint.

Oh.

So it wasn’t something that they’d initiated on their own because they were concerned that something untoward had gone on?

No, she said. She went on to explain that when a citizen complains about possible wrongdoing, the DA is required to take at least a nominal look to find out if there’s anything to it.

In fairness to the Times, they did mention the citizen complaint angle in their story, but they did so all the way down in paragraph number five and then wrote ominously that the DA’s spokeswoman “declined to elaborate.”

Right.


OTHER GRUMPY JOURNALISTS

Just about the time I was getting irritable regarding this series, both Dennis Romero at the Weekly and Bill Boyarsky at LA Observed were putting together their own thoughts.

Here’s a clip from Romero’s story Why Is the L.A. Times Obsessed With Mark Ridley-Thomas’ Garage?:

The five county supervisors, who represent more constituents than some United States senators, run county government, including the sheriff’s department, probation, child and family services, animal control and more. They’re fair game for a newspaper looking to hold public officials accountable, no doubt.

But the Times seems absolutely obsessed with what amounts to $6,278.61 of your money spent on a security system for Ridley-Thomas’ converted garage-office — even though such security work is allowed under county policy, and even though the reporter who first pursued the story, CBS L.A.’s David Goldstein, essentially passed on it:

County policy entitles the supes to taxpayer-funded security. That includes sheriff’s deputies who escort them to public events, and security systems installed at their homes. The south county’s Ridley-Thomas and east county supervisor Gloria Molina represent the most crime-challenged districts in greater L.A., even as the law requires the two officials to live in the communities from which they were elected.

The $6,278.61 spent on Ridley-Thomas’ home is less than what the Times acknowledges was spent on similar security upgrades to the home of fellow supervisor Molina — $7,406.72 worth.

[GIGANTIC SNIP]

And, in fall, while Mark-Ridley Thomas was getting $6,278.61 worth of home security at your expense, City of Los Angeles taxpayers were footing the bill for about $375,000 worth of improvements to Getty House, the official mayoral residence in Windsor Square, which is operated by a nonprofit group.

That’s 59 times the dollar amount attributed to Ridley-Thomas’ now-controversial garage alarm system.

And now here’s a clip from Boyarsky’s column,Behind the Ridley Thomas garage caper:

Ridley-Thomas told me that when he notified county officials he intended to move his home office, including his county computer, into the garage, they said they would have to revamp his county-supplied home security system. In addition, they said they, themselves, would have to move his county computer, with its high-speed Internet connection, into the new office. They had to do this, they said, to protect the county computer system from hackers.

Besides linking up with the Internet, the high-speed connection reaches the sheriff’s office and other security agencies, Ridley Thomas said. Each task requires wiring. In addition, the alarm system needs a wire to draw power from the home supply. So there must be wiring for a few purposes—high-speed Internet connection, law enforcement notification for emergencies and power for the computer and the security alarm system , Ridley-Thomas explained.

County employees and the contractors looked at the garage wall and said they wouldn’t be able to install so much wiring behind the wall without ripping it out. Since the garage was 30 years old, they said they couldn’t find replacements for the old wooden wall. Let’s hang dry wall over the wiring and paint it, they said. They preferred that solution to hanging the wires on outside of the old wall and covering them with molding. Fine, replied Ridley Thomas.

Reporters Leonard and Pringle quoted number a home security experts who said there was no need to rip out the wall to install wiring for the security system. “Ripping the walls out? That’s absolutely ridiculous,” said Nigel Smithers, Southern California general for Absolute Security Alarms. Ridley-Thomas is angry about the coverage and called me at home, hoping I would look into it. He said it was always clear that he would pay for the air conditioner, television and refrigerator. “This was above board, there was no attempt to hide anything, it was completely appropriate and legitimate,” he said.

The real dispute is over the amount of wiring needed and whether the wall should have been replaced. Was so much wiring required that the contractors had to rip down the wall? Would a cord from Home Depot sufficed? Was taxpayer money wasted?


WHY YOU AND I SHOULD CARE

So why are we writing about this in WitnessLA? After all, we’re a criminal justice news site.

Answer: Because, if as journalists we don’t kindly hold each other to account, who will? And at WLA, we are truly dismayed that the LA Times would spend this much time and reportorial energy attempting make something out of an obvious non-scandal that they, frankly, seem to justify mostly by the use of misleading headlines and very questionable lead paragraphs.

There are so many potential stories of real consequence in our county that are crying out for attention.

(I mean the corruption and malfeasance still awaiting documentation in the LA County Sheriff’s Department, is one….um…random example.)

So we’d like to gently and respectfully say: C’mon guys. You’re much better than this.

We need you to be better than this.


EDITOR’S NOTE: There’s lots more to report on topics other than Mark Ridley-Thomas’ garage. We’ll catch up on those issues Tuesday morning. In the meantime, have a great weekend.

Posted in LA County Board of Supervisors, Los Angeles Times, writers and writing | 4 Comments »

New LA Program for Child Victims of Sex-Trafficking, Reopening LAUSD Libraries, Holder Takes on Disenfranchisement, and Jerry Brown—Prisons and Playing Cards

February 13th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LA DISTRICT ATTORNEY ANNOUNCES PROGRAM TO AID VICTIMS OF CHILD SEX-TRAFFICKING

On Wednesday, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced the launch of an innovative program to help kids victimized by sex-trafficking, called the First Step Diversion Program.

The DA’s office is partnering with local law enforcement and DCFS to identify girls under the age of 18 who have been arrested for prostitution. For a year after entering First Step, young participants will receive services such as counseling, substance abuse treatment, and education programming. At the end of the year, those who complete First Step will have the arrest cleared from their record.

Here are some clips from Jackie Lacey’s announcement:

Until now, minors between the ages of 12 to 17 who were arrested for sex-related crimes were deemed juvenile delinquents. Between 2000 and 2010, the Juvenile Division of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office filed 2,188 petitions against minors caught soliciting or loitering for solicitation.

Those arrested were processed through juvenile courts with little or no resources devoted to addressing the underlying issues that forced them into prostitution.

“We believe that minors who engage in sex for pay are victims not criminals,” District Attorney Lacey said during a news conference. “We believe that we should help these children, not detain them.

[SNIP]

Lacey said the District Attorney’s Office is joining forces with the Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Los Angeles County Probation Department and the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services to identify girls under 18 who have been arrested for sex related offenses.

First Step will be rolled out in two Juvenile Division Branch Offices – Sylmar and Compton. These juvenile offices were selected due to the volume of arrests and because those girls arrested actually reside in that community.

A supervising deputy district attorney will be assigned to oversee First Step within each juvenile office.

For a period of one year, minors who agree to enter the First Step program will receive referral services, such as crisis intervention, sexual assault and mental health counseling, substance abuse treatment, education and other appropriate social services.


SHUT DOWN LAUSD LIBRARIES MAY REOPEN THEIR DOORS

In December, we pointed to a story about the inordinate number of LAUSD school libraries that have been shuttered because there’s no staff to run them.

On Tuesday, the LA Unified school board approved the creation of a task force to address the issue. The task force will draft a library funding plan and present a budget to the board within 90 days.

KPCC’s Annie Gilbertson has a welcome update on her previous story. Here’s a clip:

There are only 98 librarians in a district 768 school libraries. Many elementary schools opt for library aides instead – a lower-pay, part-time position. But even with aides, 332 school libraries do not have staff. State law says only librarians or aides can run school libraries.

“We all know that one immediate solution is the staffing of all our libraries,” said board member Monica Ratliff, who authored the task force resolution. “Few are openly opposed to the concept of staffing all our libraries and many are currently interested in addressing the current system of inequity in which some students have access to library books and others don’t.”


ATTORNEY GENERAL HOLDER CALLS FOR AN END TO FELON DISENFRANCHISEMENT

Earlier this week, US Attorney General Eric Holder called on states to restore voting rights to the millions of felons who are still disenfranchised after serving their time.

The NY Times’ Matt Apuzzo has the story. Here are some clips:

In a speech at Georgetown University, Mr. Holder described today’s prohibitions — which in some cases bar those convicted from voting for life — as a vestige of the racist policies of the South after the Civil War, when states used the criminal justice system to keep blacks from fully participating in society.

“Those swept up in this system too often had their rights rescinded, their dignity diminished, and the full measure of their citizenship revoked for the rest of their lives,” Mr. Holder said. “They could not vote.”

Mr. Holder has no authority to enact the changes he called for, given that states establish the rules under which people can vote. And state Republican leaders made clear that Mr. Holder’s remarks, made to a receptive audience at a civil rights conference, would not move them.

“Eric Holder’s speech from Washington, D.C., has no effect on Florida’s Constitution, which prescribes that individuals who commit felonies forfeit their right to vote,” said Frank Collins, a spokesman for Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican.

[SNIP]

Like mandatory minimum sentences for crack cocaine offenses, laws banning felons from the voting booth disproportionately affect minorities. African-Americans represent more than a third of the estimated 5.8 million people who are prohibited from voting.

Nearly every state prohibits inmates from voting while in prison. Laws vary widely, however, on whether felons can vote once they have been released from prison. Some states allow voting while on parole, others while on probation.

Some states require waiting periods or have complicated processes for felons to reregister to vote. In Mississippi, passing a $100 bad check carries a lifetime ban from voting.

In four states — Florida, Iowa, Kentucky and Virginia — all felons are barred from the polls for life unless they receive clemency from the governor.

“This isn’t just about fairness for those who are released from prison,” Mr. Holder said. “It’s about who we are as a nation. It’s about confronting, with clear eyes and in frank terms, disparities and divisions that are unworthy of the greatest justice system the world has ever known.”

And here’s what an NYT editorial had to say about Holder’s move:

Despite some progress, the United States remains an extreme outlier in allowing lifetime voting bans. Most industrialized nations allow all nonincarcerated people to vote, and many even allow voting in prison.

Adding insult to injury, felon disenfranchisement laws — which are explicitly permitted by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution — are devoid of both logic and supporting evidence. They undermine the citizenship of people who have paid their debt to society, and possibly at a cost to public safety. As Mr. Holder pointed out, a study by a parole commission in Florida found that formerly incarcerated people banned from voting were three times as likely to re-offend as those who were allowed to vote.

[SNIP]

Regardless of which party might benefit most at the polls, repealing felon disenfranchisement laws is in the interest of upholding American ideals. And it has increasing bipartisan support; Senators Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah, Republicans who have promoted criminal-justice reform on a larger scale, are also pushing to scale back or end these laws. Even after someone has completed a sentence, Senator Paul said in September, “the punishment and stigma continues for the rest of their life, harming their families and hampering their ability to re-enter society.”


TWO LA TIMES ESSAYS WITH DIFFERENT VIEWS ON GOV. JERRY BROWN’S TWO YEAR PRISON OVERCROWDING REPRIEVE

George Skelton in his Capitol Journal column says California’s deadline extension is a “win-win” for all parties involved. It’s an obvious victory for Governor Jerry Brown, who fought an uphill battle to gain the extra time, but Skelton says everyone—including inmates, lawyers and taxpayers—will benefit from the judges’ ruling.

Here’s a clip:

The judges, lawyers and inmates will gradually obtain — although not as quickly as they’d liked — more breathing room in the lockups and, consequently, better medical and mental healthcare. Moreover, the felons will be provided improved rehab, education, job training and treatment for drug abuse.

And some prisoners will be given early release, although Brown certainly won’t be calling it that.

The taxpaying public will be saving money in the long run. They’ll be paying for incarcerating fewer prisoners. And those released will be more likely to go straight and not return as expensive wards of the state.

At least that’s the theory. And it’s worth trying, given that California’s old stack-’em-like-cordwood mentality resulted in a recidivism rate — repeat lawbreaking — of 70%, twice the national average.

A Times editorial does not share Skelton’s optimism, and suggests that the judges should not have been quite so lenient with the governor, but pushed him to lock more rehabilitation into his plan.

Here’s how it opens:

There’s always one kid in class who gets away with it. You know the one. The teacher says the homework is due Friday and if you don’t turn it in, you flunk. But this kid pleads for more time. Just give him the weekend and he promises to get it done. The teacher says OK, then Monday comes and he asks to be given until the end of the week. And then he promises to turn it in at the end of the year. Then he says he can get it done by next April. Promise.

Now, how about two years from now?

Gov. Jerry Brown is the kid who got away with it, persuading a three-judge federal court panel to give him until February 2016 — long after this year’s elections — to reduce the state’s prison population by 5,500 inmates and to put in place anti-recidivism programs to keep the numbers down permanently. Even the judges expressed surprise at their own leniency, acknowledging that they’ve heard similar promises from California governors many times since 2009, when they ordered the state to shrink the inmate population to comply with constitutional strictures against cruel and unusual punishment. The judges noted that in the intervening years, prisoners have continued to be mistreated, that Californians have paid a financial price for the state’s delay, and that “this court must also accept part of the blame for not acting more forcefully with regard to defendants’ obduracy in the face of its continuing constitutional violations.”


AND A VERY IMPORTANT UPDATE ON THOSE SUTTER BROWN PLAYING CARDS

California’s first lady, Anne Gust Brown, came up with the adorable corgi playing cards with a state deficit chart on the back that were handed out during the governor’s State of the State speech.

The cards were such a massive hit that there may be a reprint in the works.

The SF Gate’s Carla Marinucci has the story. Here’s a clip:

She said the brainstorm had occurred to her as her husband was writing his speech. “This was about the governor sending a message … actually, not to the whole public,” but specifically to the Democratic-controlled Legislature, Gust Brown said.

And “how do you keep getting a message out to a group that wants to declare victory?”

Certainly, state legislators “made a lot of hard decisions to get us to a surplus,” and had reason to want to celebrate, she said. “We’ve done a lot to get out of these horrible deficits,” she said.

But Brown wanted to “keep reinforcing the decisions” based on fiscal prudence, she said.

And the challenge: Talking about issues like a rainy day fund “is boring,” she said. “People roll their eyes. You can say it in a speech, or put it in a chart, and they forget it.

“So I liked having some way where Jerry could reconfirm the point … and Sutter being there, I knew, would make it more memorable.”

Along with the dog’s photos on the front of the card, she added a flip side: a chart showing the persistence of the state’s deficits.

Posted in DCFS, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), juvenile justice, LAUSD, prison | No Comments »

LA Sheriff Scott Interview, LA Supes to Scrutinize Youth Indigent Defense, LASD IG Addresses Public, and Obama’s New Initiative for Young Men of Color

February 12th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

PATT MORRISON INTERVIEWS LA COUNTY INTERIM SHERIFF JOHN SCOTT

In an interview with the LA Times’ Patt Morrison, the new LA County Sheriff, John Scott, discusses why he was chosen as interim sheriff, and what he hopes to accomplish in the next ten months (when a permanent sheriff will be elected). Here’s a clip:

PM: Are more indictments coming?

JS: I’ve asked for a meeting with the federal prosecutor to see whether I can find out.

PM: You have at most 10 months before a new, elected sheriff comes in. What problems need fixing, and why did the Board of Supervisors believe you were the man to do it?

JS: They were looking for an individual who was not going to run for the position, and I had the unique perspective of working both L.A. and Orange County with [some] similar issues: problems in the jail and badges [issued to politicians or supporters].

The image has been tarnished. Things were done that are being investigated that certainly we’re accountable for, but the vast majority of deputies are doing a very professional job.

One of my goals is to restore an image but also the confidence of our public. Then we have accountability. Some things that were in place when I left, I want to restore.

We had SCIF, Sheriff’s Critical Incident Forum, a quarterly look at all the different factors that go into an operation. We determined if there were spikes or trends, and we analyzed why is this high or why is this low. It’s good to take metrics and analyze them and take good ideas and apply them across the board.

PM: Of the 60 reforms recommended by the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence, how many have been done?

JS: Close to 50.

PM: So the hard parts are left?

JS: It’s hard in terms of financing. We have to find funding for some of the last components. Policy change and supervisorial monitoring are things we can do pretty quickly, but when you talk about a culture that exists, that takes more than a couple of years. But that doesn’t mean you can’t start.

PM: And you’ve been brought in to do the hard stuff and deliver bad news?

JS: I’ve done it before and I’m willing to do it again, because it’s the right thing to do.

PM: We may elect a sheriff in June, or there may be a runoff in November. How can you work with that timing uncertainty?

JS: My game plan is to push as much through as I can in 10 months. I feel it’s highly unlikely that there’s going to be a clear [winner] in June. I’m looking at this as a 10-month program, but I’m concentrating heavily on the first four months. I’ll [also] be reaching out to each of the candidates about their own plans and goals as we move forward.


LA COUNTY SUPERVISORS ORDER REVIEW OF JUVENILE INDIGENT DEFENSE IN LA

The LA County Board of Supervisors passed a motion (by Supe. Mark Ridley-Thomas) to conduct an analysis of the current juvenile indigent defense system, including how panel attorneys—private attorneys assigned to kids the public defender’s office cannot represent—are compensated.

The LA Times’ Abby Sewell has more on the Supes’ decision. Here are some clips:

Under-age criminal defendants who can’t afford a lawyer are generally represented by someone from the county public defender’s office. But when that office is already representing another defendant in the case or a special circumstance arises, lawyers from a separate panel step in to remove the potential conflict of interest.

Advocates argue that the switch creates another problem: The private lawyers the county contracts with for these cases, known as panel attorneys, are paid less — a flat rate of $319 to $345 per case — and may not represent their clients as vigorously.

“Children charged with crimes are not only entitled to competent representation but an opportunity to avoid the prison pipeline if it is at all possible to do so,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who proposed the review.

[SNIP]

The review will include looking at the compensation systems in other counties and the resources and training given to attorneys. It will also consider a set of guidelines for defense attorneys proposed by Michael Nash, presiding judge of the county’s Juvenile Court.


INSPECTOR GENERAL FOR LASD ADDRESSES COMMUNITY AT TOWN HALL MEETING

The new Inspector General for the Sheriff’s Department, Max Huntsman, spoke to the public for the first time at a town hall meeting on Monday. Huntsman, who took the role of independent LASD watchdog at the beginning of the year, discussed jail violence and recent indictments, and his intent to bring accountability to the department.

KPCC’s Rina Palta has the story. Here’s a clip:

…there’s been a question of what sort of oversight the department should have. An elected official, the sheriff is an atypical law enforcement leader in that he or she is accountable only to the voters – not a civilian oversight board, or elected officials, or an institutional watchdog.

Nevertheless, creating a way to monitor the department has been the goal of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors for several years. Supervisors have power over the law enforcement agency’s budget, but not much else. The answer was to create the office of the Inspector General and hire former public corruption prosecutor, Max Huntsman, to the post.

At a town hall organized by the office of Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and the Empowerment Congress, Huntsman acknowledged that while he lacks formal power, he’s hopeful that he’ll have the necessary tools to inspire change at the sheriff’s department.

“I can’t force change. I can’t order the sheriff’s department to do anything,” Huntsman said, noting to the audience that local and state law gives the sheriff sole authority over his or her department. “The power that I have comes from you.”

Huntsman noted that the vast majority of sheriff’s deputies are “heroes,” and that his job is to bring attention to those who fall short. He outlined his vision for the new office as a bridge between the community and the sheriff’s department.

…By hiring attorneys, retired police officers, and investigators to staff the inspector general office, he said he hopes to gain credibility with both the public and the department. The primary role will be to monitor department’s activities, audit expenditures, select which investigations to pursue, and lobby for changes, he said.

(Read on.)


OBAMA LAUNCHES EFFORT TO HELP YOUNG MINORITY MEN FLOURISH

On Thursday, President Obama will launch an initiative to stop the school-to-prison pipeline for young men of color across the nation. The initiative, “My Brother’s Keeper,” will connect businesses and non-profits to help keep kids in school and out of the justice system, and will evaluate programs aimed at helping young men of color “reach their full potential.”

The Washington Post’s Zachary Goldfarb has the story. Here’s how it opens:

President Obama will launch a significant new effort Thursday to bolster the lives of young minority men, seeking to use the power of the presidency to help a group of Americans whose lives are disproportionately affected by poverty and prison.

The “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative will bring foundations and companies together to test a range of strategies to support such young men, taking steps to keep them in school and out of the criminal justice system, a White House official said. Obama will also announce a more vigorous program to evaluate policies and publicize results to school systems around the country.

The effort will seek “to make sure that every young man of color who is willing to work hard and lift himself up has an opportunity to get ahead and reach his full potential,” the White House official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity ahead of the announcement. “The initiative will be focused on implementing strategies that are proven to get results.”

Posted in juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, Obama, Public Defender, race and class, School to Prison Pipeline, Sheriff John Scott | 34 Comments »

Two Extra Years to Ease California Prison Overcrowding, More Than a Child Welfare Czar, and DOJ Sez: Equal Rights for Same-Sex Couples

February 11th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

JUDGES GRANT GOV. BROWN TWO MORE YEARS TO REDUCE PRISON POPULATION

On Monday, the federal three-judge panel agreed to Gov. Jerry Brown’s request for a two year extension on the state’s deadline for reducing the California prison population to 137% capacity. The judges’ order calls on the state to begin Gov. Brown’s proposed parole expansion and early release credit program immediately. Among other stipulations, the order says that Brown cannot increase the number of inmates in out-of-state facilities, and says the state should try to bring the current number (8,900) down.

The state’s final deadline will be Feb. 28, 2016, but there will be two smaller targets to hit—the first is a 1000-inmate reduction by June 30, 2014.

The LA Times’ Paige St. John, who has been following the Gov. Brown prison-overcrowding saga from the start, has more on the judges’ decision. Here’s a clip:

Monday’s ruling comes with new conditions: The judges will appoint a compliance officer with the power to release inmates if the state misses interim deadlines for easing the overcrowding. And even as they granted more time to comply with the court order, they criticized the state’s efforts to delay the release of inmates, who remain packed into prisons at more than 144 percent of capacity.

[SNIP]

Had the judges refused to extend the deadline, Mr. Brown had planned to spend about $20 million this fiscal year and up to $50 million in the next to house prisoners in out-of-state facilities. California currently houses about 8,900 inmates in other states, and Monday’s order prohibits the state from adding to that number.

Now, instead, Mr. Brown has proposed spending $81 million in the next fiscal year for the rehabilitation programs intended to reduce the recidivism rate and help bring the prison population down over time. “The state now has the time and resources necessary to help inmates become productive members of society and make our communities safer,” Mr. Brown said.

[SNIP]

“This extension means two more years of suffering for inmates that should not have been granted,” said Michael Bien, a lawyer for some inmates.

Mr. Bien said that to keep the prison population from continuing to rise, California would have to reform its sentencing laws. The state has agreed to consider establishing a commission to recommend reforms of state penal and sentencing laws, according to Monday’s court order…


CREATING LASTING FOSTER CARE REFORMS

In December, the Los Angeles Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection handed the Board of Supervisors a set of preliminary recommendations for reforming DCFS. While the final recommendations will be issued in April, the commission urged the board to implement the early recommendations immediately, including choosing a lead agency (or child welfare czar) to oversee the suggested DCFS reforms.

During last week’s meeting, the Supervisors moved forward with just two of the recommendations, citing a lack of extra funds. The board requested a fiscal analysis for the other recommendations, and will wait until April to make their next move.

In his publication, The Chronicle of Social Change, Daniel Heimpel has some insightful suggestions for both the commission and the Board of Supervisors, moving forward:

As the Board of Supervisors and the commission moves forward, they should consider four key elements to success. These are:

Lessons from child welfare reform initiatives that hinge on cross-agency collaboration.

The value of putting front-line workers from various child-serving departments in the same building.

The power and necessity of incorporating youth in the process.

The role of the news media in ensuring that all the players involved are getting the job done.

And here’s a clip expanding upon the third and fourth ideas in Heimpel’s list (but do go read the rest):

Youth as Part of the Solution

This is not the first time Los Angeles has seen a Blue Ribbon Commission and unless we finally get it right, it won’t be the last. As far as I see it, there has to be a fundamental change in the strategy for protecting children.

Firstly, we have to ask ourselves: what is the point of doing any of this if it is not guided by the young people who experience the system? The commission should recommend that the Board of Supervisors pay for youth to be a part of the decision-making process under any eventual czar. It can’t only be a bunch of grayhairs calling the shots.

The Press

The very existence of the Blue Ribbon Commission is attributable to the press’ role in compelling the Board of Supervisors to act. And it wasn’t until the press took notice of the commission’s preliminary recommendations that the debate about spending money or designating a czar became real. The commissioners shouldn’t forget this when laying out their final recommendations.

They should recommend that press coverage of child welfare is expanded. The commission should advocate for the easing of confidentiality laws on the state level, the continuance of Judge Michael Nash’s blanket order giving greater access to the media in juvenile dependency courts after he steps down next year, and the creation of a fund to support journalism projects that cover the system and the Board of Supervisors independently.


US AG ERIC HOLDER ANNOUNCES NEW JUSTICE DEPT. POLICY: EQUAL PROTECTION FOR SAME-SEX MARRIED COUPLES

On Saturday, US Attorney General Eric Holder announced the Department of Justice will extend equal protection to same-sex married couples who encounter the criminal justice system. (Woohoo!) For instance, couples will now have the right to refuse to testify against their spouse, the federally incarcerated will receive the same visitation and furlough rights as heterosexual married couples, and death benefits for surviving spouses of peace officers will be extended to same-sex couples.

The Washington Post’s Sari Horwitz has the story. Here’s a clip:

Under the Justice Department policy, federal inmates in same-sex marriages will also be entitled to the same rights and privileges as inmates in heterosexual marriages, including visitation by a spouse, escorted trips to attend a spouse’s funeral, correspondence with a spouse, and compassionate release or reduction in sentence based on the incapacitation of an inmate’s spouse.

In addition, an inmate in a same-sex marriage can be furloughed to be present during a crisis involving a spouse. In bankruptcy cases, same-sex married couples will be eligible to file for bankruptcy jointly. Domestic support obligations will include debts, such as alimony, owed to a former same-sex spouse. Certain debts to same-sex spouses or former spouses should be excepted from discharge.

“This means that, in every courthouse, in every proceeding and in every place where a member of the Department of Justice stands on behalf of the United States — they will strive to ensure that same-sex marriages receive the same privileges, protections, and rights as opposite-sex marriages under federal law,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said in a speech Saturday night at the Human Rights Campaign’s Greater New York Gala at the Waldorf Astoria in New York, where he announced the new policy.

“This landmark announcement will change the lives of countless committed gay and lesbian couples for the better,” Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said in a statement. “While the immediate effect of these policy decisions is that all married gay couples will be treated equally under the law, the long-term effects are more profound. Today, our nation moves closer toward its ideals of equality and fairness for all.”


Posted in DCFS, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, LGBT, prison | No Comments »

On Which Way LA? With Warren Olney Tonight at 7 pm

February 10th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


I’ll be on Which Way LA? tonight at 7 pm on KCRW, 89.9 talking about what these most recent federal charges
against two more sheriff’s department members mean and what they suggest about years of faulty leadership in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

Here’s the link.

Posted in FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, Sheriff John Scott, Sheriff Lee Baca | No Comments »

Latest Fed Indictment of LASD Deputies Suggests Big Failures of Leadership

February 10th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


On the morning of April 16, 2012, Paulino Juarez testified in front of the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence
about three cases of deputies beating inmates he said he had witnessed during his time working as a Catholic chaplain at Men’s Central Jail. Juarez is a diminutive, soft spoken man who has worked in the county’s jail system since July 1998. This meant he had fourteen years of jail work under his belt by he spoke to the commission, so he was hardly new to custody ministering. Nevertheless, his hands frequently trembled as he described the third and most harrowing of the beatings he said he saw.

(You can read Jaurez’ testimony before the CCJV about the reported beating here, starting on page 162.)

The third incident that chaplain Juarez recounted to the CCJV forms the basis of the federal indictment announced last Friday morning in which two Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputies—Joey Aguiar, 26, and Mariano Ramirez, 38—-were charged with illegally using force against an inmate, and then attempting to cover up the incident with false reports that “formed the basis of a false prosecution initiated against the victim.”

These new charges bring the number of department members indicted by the feds to 20—with more assuredly to come.

The notion of two deputies allegedly brutalizing an inmate who is already handcuffed and waist-chained, and doing so in front of an experienced civilian witness, and then reportedly trumping up criminal allegations against that the same inmate—despite the witness—is alarming enough.

But this indictment points beyond itself to four other issues that should, if anything, alarm us more.


1. PEOPLE ON THE TOP OF THE LASD FOOD CHAIN KNEW ALL ABOUT THIS INCIDENT, YET NO DEPARTMENT SANCTIONS RESULTED

Juarez said that he recounted the incident verbally and in writing to a host of people within the sheriff’s department’s command structure—plus the Office of Independent Review—but no sanctions appeared to result. In July 2011, nearly 2 years after the incident, Juarez even managed to meet with Sheriff Baca and Assistant Sheriff Cecil Rambo, at which time he relayed what he’d seen.

According to Juarez, the sheriff told him that LASD investigators had determined that the inmate/victim’s bruises were not caused by a beating at all, but by being hit by a car before he ever got to jail. So nothing to see here folks.

No one mentioned the fact that, as Rena Palta reported, there was an LASD video of inmate/victim Brett Phillips lying injured and unconscious—or barely conscious—after the beating.

But, heck, why deal in evidence?


2. AFTER A SCATHING ACLU REPORT AND A PILE OF BAD PRESS, THE DEPARTMENT DID TAKE ANOTHER LOOK INTO THE BEATING IN OCT. 2011, THEN RAN OUT THE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS CLOCK.

After the ACLU issued its September 2011 report about violence in the jails, including a declaration and video by Paulino Juarez (among other civilian witnesses)—all of which made national news—the LASD decided to reinvestigate the matter.

Not that it did any good.

According to documents from the Integrity Division of the LA County District Attorney’s office, the LASD’s criminal investigative unit, ICIB, didn’t finish their investigation into the 2009 beating until January 28, 2013—nearly four years after the original incident. In other words, they didn’t finish until they’d neatly run out the clock on the statute of limitations regarding any punitive actions or charges that the LASD or the district attorney might bring.

Whether or not the DA’s office was interested in the case is unclear. But what is very clear is the fact that, by time the DA’s people were belatedly given the paperwork by the LASD, they had no choice but to decline to proceed:

“…Violation for Penal Code section 149, Assault Under Color of Authority, must commence within three years after commission of the offense,” the DA’s office wrote in their official rejection of the case. “We are legally precluded and therefore decline to file criminal charges in this matter…”


3. THE FAILURE OF LEADERSHIP IS THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM

The younger of the two deputies facing these new federal charges, which could result in decades in prison, is now 26. Doing some quick math, this means he was around 21 at the time of the 2009 incident, presumably not very far out of the academy.

Yet, despite the existence of independent witness to the event, it appears that every supervisor who came in contact with the 2009 beating incident, and its alleged criminal cover-up, either denied the existence of any wrongdoing or winked at it—from the sergeant directly above the deputies, through Internal Affairs, ICIB, up to Sheriff Baca. Once has to ask what kind of message all these supervisors imagined they were sending to their young deputies—and the rest of their rank and file—with such actions, or lack thereof.

“We’ve got your back, no matter what trouble you stir up! Don’t worry about the blow-back!” is neither good leadership nor good parenting.

The other jail brutality incidents from the previous round of indictments occurred in 2010 and 2011. Those charges too suggest a pattern of abuse and criminal cover up that had been roundly ignored by supervisors for years. This is the catastrophic failure of leadership that the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence described so scathingly in their September 2012 findings and report.

Certainly, a few department members tried to raise red flags. In 2009, Custody division commanders, Robert Olmsted and Stephen Johnson asked for and received reports by Lt. Mark McCorkle and Lt. Stephen Smith, that each delved into the growing number of incidents of force used against inmates, and outlined a troubling lack of accountability, and worse. But, reportedly when Olmsted tried repeatedly to shake department leadership awake, again, those at the top of the LASD adamantly declined to act.

(For the Smith and McCorkle reports go here and start on p. 27. For our previous detailed reporting on Olmsted’s lengthy testimony at the CCJV, go here.)

We know that uses of force in the jails have gone down, and investigations have, at times, been far more rigorous. Assistant Chief Terri McDonald has made some strides. But throughout the department, custody included, under the past regime, accountability has been highly selective. Too often it has been for show, not for real change.

I watched the Los Angeles Police Department go through a such a period of selective accountability, post Rampart, in 2001 and 2002. The result was that officers stopped pro-active policing for fear of being disciplined, and crime actually went up. Nobody was safer.

Then Bill Bratton came in. The department had real leadership. The rules were the rules for everyone. (It wasn’t about whom you knew.) Crime went down. Officer moral rose.

(Just to be clear: we aren’t saying the LAPD is perfect. For example, we agree with the LA Times editorial board that keeping the names secret of those involved in the Torrance officer-involved shootings that occurred during the Dorner nightmare, is not an acceptable stance for the reasons the Times states. Nonetheless, the core culture of the LAPD has fundamentally altered because of clarity of message and action at the top.)

In these very early days, Sheriff Scott has shown strong signs of wishing to do the same.

May it be so.

The LASD presents a unique challenge. It has corrosive factions within its culture that are formidable.


4. INDICTMENTS MOVING UP THE FOOD CHAIN?

And speaking of accountablity, in the case of those indicted this past December for their part in hiding federal informant Anthony Brown from the FBI and any other federal agents, the failures of leadership were not of omission, but commission. To put it more plainly, the two lieutenants, two sergeants, and three deputies criminally indicted in relationship to the Brown operation did not assign themselves to the task of hiding Brown. That little caper was reportedly overseen by either former undersheriff Paul Tanaka or former sheriff Lee Baca (depending upon which one of them you ask). Or both.

And yet it is deputies and sergeants (and two lieutenants) who are facing serious prison time.

With all of the above in mind, we await the next round of indictments and cannot help but hope that at least relatively soon the charges will begin to move further up the ladder of command.

U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte has stated unequivocally that his office intends to follow the investigations wherever they go.

We are counting on just that.



AND IN OTHER NEWS…..JERRY BROWN WANTS SPLIT SENTENCING AND WE DO TOO (AND SO DOES THE LA TIMES)

Governor Jerry Brown was in town late last month telling everyone that they needed to save water (obviously). Equally importantly, he was also meeting with various criminal justice agency heads—probation, the judiciary, the DA’s Office and more—-in the hope of persuading them to get with the program when it comes to the policy of “split sentencing” for many of the AB109 defendants that are now landing in county—not state—supervision.

I talked at length with Probation Chief Jerry Powers after he met with Brown, and he said and his people are totally on board for split sentencing. Certainly all the criminal justice advocates are for it, as is WitnessLA.

So what is split sentencing? Why isn’t it happening? And why should you care?

Sunday’s LA Times editorial explains:

While he was in town late last month to talk with local water agencies and policymakers about the drought, Gov. Jerry Brown also had a lower-profile but just as urgent meeting with Los Angeles County’s top criminal justice officials. What is it with you L.A. people, the governor asked, and your resistance to split sentencing?

It’s a good question, even if it requires a bit of explanation. Under California’s AB 109 public safety realignment, low-level felons do their time in county jail instead of state prison, and courts have the option to split their sentences between time behind bars and time under supervised release. An offender sentenced to four years, for example, may get out after only two — but then be subject to another two years of structured reentry into society, with intensive oversight and required participation in drug or mental health treatment, anger management or other such programs. Counties administer those programs, but the state pays for them.

Several counties are taking advantage of split sentencing with promising results. In Riverside County, for example, 80% of AB 109 felons leave jail for mandatory transition and supervision programs, and early figures suggest lower rates of recidivism. In Los Angeles County, only 6% of felons have their sentences split, and the rest walk out of jail on the final day of their terms subject to no search and seizure, no supervision, no mandatory rehab or services, no management or oversight of any kind.

The problem, explains the Times, is that prosecutors, defense lawyers and judges are dragging their collective feet because…..well, they can’t really say why. Most defendants don’t want split sentences, they mutter.

Um, really? And so we’re letting the lawbreakers call the shots? Even though every piece of evidence suggests that some enlightened supervision would be—on average—-in the defendants’ and everybody else’s best interest in preventing recidivism, and facilitating success after release?

Mostly, says the times, LA has been slow-dragging on the policy because the judges, lawyers et al are “used to doing things a certain way.”

(Honestly, the resistance to this obviously necessary policy change is about that dumb.)

Jackie Lacey is, at least, putting together a group to study the matter.

As for the rest, like Jerry said, it’s time to get with the program.

Posted in ACLU, District Attorney, FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, Los Angeles County, Probation, Realignment, Reentry, Sheriff Lee Baca | 47 Comments »

Two More LASD Deputies Indicted Friday Morning

February 7th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


On Friday morning, US Attorney Andre Birotte announced
that two more members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department have been indicted.

Deputies Joey Aguiar and Mariano Ramirez were charged in relation to a reported beating incident that occurred in February 2009. Both Aguiar and Rameriz were, at the time, working the 3000 floor of LA County’s Men’s Central Jail.

According to the indictment, the “victim-inmate” —ID’d with the initials BP—was awaiting a hearing on a parole violation when the encounter with the two deputies in question occurred. BP was reportedly chained at his waist with his hands cuffed to the chain, when the deputies allegedly pepper-sprayed, struck and kicked the man. Then later, according to federal allegations, the two accused the inmate of assaulting them, describing in their report an elaborate attack.

However, unlike many alleged beatings of inmates by deputies, this incident was witnessed by one of the jail chaplains assigned to MCJ. The encounter on which the federal charges are based, first came to light in the course of the ACLU’s 2011 report on brutality by deputies against inmates in the LA County jail system.

These newest charges naming the two deputies brings the total to 20 LASD department members who have been indicted as part of the ongoing federal investigation into brutality and corruption inside the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

No one expects the indictments to end here.

Here’s the video of Chaplain Paulino Juarez describing the 2009 beating he witnessed.

We’ll have more on the new federal charges, plus some thoughts on what they mean, Sunday night. (I originally said Friday night, but we’ll have a fuller report on Sunday.)

In the meantime, check our pals at ABC-7. and Richard Winton at the LA Times.

Posted in FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, U.S. Attorney | 34 Comments »

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