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Shuttering LA’s Troubled Youth Welcome Center, Reforming LASD’s Antelope Valley Stations, For-Profit Policing in CA, and Pat Nolan

SHUT DOWN THE LA COUNTY YOUTH WELCOME CENTER, A WAREHOUSE FOR HARD-TO-PLACE FOSTER KIDS, SEZ A SPECIAL COMMITTEE

A new report headed to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors says the county must shut down operation at its Youth Welcome Center, which has become an ill-equipped warehouse for kids, thanks, in large part, to a lack of available homes for foster kids.

The Youth Welcome Center, opened in 2012 (video above), originally intended as a place to house kids new to the system for 24 hours while social workers found them foster parents or 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 older teens, LGBTQ kids, and those suffering from mental illness.

The report, which will come from a committee formed by the Supes, recommends creating a 30-day emergency shelter for these kids, while also beefing up the number of group homes.

The LA Times’ Garrett Therolf, who has been reporting on the ongoing troubles at the Youth Welcome Center, has the story. Here are some clips:

The centers are allowed to keep children for only 24 hours and are not licensed for the lengthy stays some of the youths endured. They lack sufficient bedding, bathrooms and showers, as well as mental health and the education professionals necessary to meet their needs.

Over time, the number of youths without a proper foster home grew. It the last year, there were 800 violations of the 24-hour rule at both welcome centers, a county commissioner said.

Following The Times report, state officials in April took a harder line and sued the county, pushing the centers to comply to the letter of state law. The county and state reached a settlement agreement the same month and agreed to begin the licensing process to bring the existing facilities up to the state’s standards.

These changes would include establishing facilities at the centers that provided the required amenities and opportunities so young people could be legally housed there for up to three days.

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Leslie Starr Heimov, who leads the court-appointed law firm for foster youths, said that the DCFS plan to solve the centers’ problems by establishing a three-day facility is insufficient.

“For the hardest-to-place youth, I’m skeptical that we will do much better in 72 hours than what we do in 24. We will once again be in the position where we are just looking for a bed — any bed” to move a child out of a welcome center, she said.

Both she and the commission’s report recommend more sweeping change, including vast improvement in the inventory of foster homes and a 30-day emergency shelter. Only more ambitious reforms such as those, she said, “will ever solve the revolving door” of children failing to find lasting foster homes and repeatedly returning to the welcome centers.


LANCASTER & PALMDALE SHERIFF’S STATIONS MAKING MAJOR ANTI-BIAS REFORM PROGRESS AFTER US DOJ INTERVENTION

Advocates say the Los Angeles Sheriff’s stations in Lancaster and Palmdale are making huge strides to eliminate racially discriminatory practices that led to federal intervention.

In April, the US Department of Justice and LA County agreed on a court-enforceable settlement to reform the Lancaster and Palmdale stations. The settlement followed two years behind a 46-page “findings” letter from the DOJ detailing systemic discrimination against black (and to a lesser extent, Latino) Antelope Valley residents. There are 150 requirements that the department must meet to fulfill the terms of the settlement.

One of the advocates who brought allegations to the feds, Miguel Coronado, says discriminatory drug raids on people receiving subsidized housing assistance and other racially biased practices have all but vanished.

The Associated Press has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

Coronado, who sits on Lancaster’s planning commission, was among those who brought allegations of racially biased policing in the area to federal authorities. He now has the cellphone numbers of high-ranking sheriff’s officials on his speed dial — and he says they pick up when he calls.

Residents rarely call him anymore to complain about the department, when he used to get several complaints a day, he said.

The settlement approved in April came less than two years after federal prosecutors identified a pattern of discrimination that included unconstitutional stops, searches, seizures and excessive force against blacks and Hispanics in Palmdale and Lancaster.

Deputies harassed and intimidated blacks and others in public housing, showing up for inspections with as many as nine officers, sometimes with guns drawn, the Justice Department said in its June 2013 report.

The LA Times’ Cindy Chang broke this story.


EDITORIAL: CA LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES SHOULD TAKE A HARD LOOK AT QUOTAS AND OTHER PROFIT-MAKING POLICING ACTIVITIES

A San Diego Union-Tribune editorial says California Highway Patrol’s monthly goals regarding the number of “enforcement contacts” made seem dangerously similar to quotas. For California law enforcement agencies, implementing quotas for arrests and citations is illegal.

It’s not just a CHP problem. LAPD motorcycle officers have successfully sued the city over arrest quotas. Law enforcement agencies should look closely at practices and policies, like quotas and civil asset forfeiture, that value profit and punishment over public safety, says the editorial board. Here’s a clip:

Under questioning from attorneys for Harrison Orr – a Citrus Heights man who won a $125,000 judgment – CHP motorcycle Officer Jay Brame testified that he has for years been admonished by his CHP superiors to have at least “100 enforcement contacts” a month while on patrol duty. This testimony has been backed up by Brame’s formal performance reviews, which criticized him for “enforcement contacts” that were “well below the shift average.”

It is illegal under state law for law-enforcement officers to be given quotas for arrests and/or citations. The CHP flatly denies it has quotas for its Sacramento bureau or anywhere in the state. But pressing officers to meet numerical goals on “enforcement contacts” certainly seems problematic. And the fact that it is far from the first time that police agencies in California have faced such allegations provides crucial context. The Los Angeles Police Department, for example, has repeatedly been successfully sued by its motorcycle officers over arrest quotas set by their superiors.

This practice is dubious in many ways, starting with the fact that it creates incentives that make an officer’s job more about punishing drivers and collecting fines than about maintaining highway safety…


RECOMMENDED READING: PAT NOLAN, FROM TOUGH-ON-CRIME LEGISLATOR, TO INMATE, TO POWERFUL CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM ADVOCATE

The New Yorker has an excellent longread profile on Pat Nolan, a former California Republican Assemblymember who, after being busted in a federal racketeering sting, had a very personal wake up call about the state of the nation’s criminal justice system. Nolan’s whole world (and perspective) was turned upside down. He spent 25 months behind bars, and then four months in a halfway house, during and after which, he became a vehement advocate for reform. Nolan is now the Director of the Criminal Justice Reform Project at the American Conservative UnionFoundation, and partners with the Texas-based Right on Crime group, and has had a hand in the passage of Prop 47, the Prison Rape Elimination Act, and the reetry-focused Second Chance Act.

Here are some clips from the New Yorker story:

“I went to the legislature very pro cop and with a get-tough-on-crime attitude,” Nolan told me. He wanted to reinstate the death penalty, which the Supreme Court had temporarily suspended. He believed that the exclusionary rule, which disallows evidence improperly obtained by the police, had become a loophole that lawyers exploited to allow guilty clients to go free. He excoriated a colleague in the assembly for proposing a law that would extend workers’ compensation to inmates injured in prison labor programs. And he was a leading sponsor of a prison-building boom in the state, which included, to his eventual regret, the Pelican Bay supermax facility, where inmates are kept in long-term solitary.

The F.B.I. sting, he says, dispelled his unconditional faith in law enforcement. In Nolan’s telling of it, trophy-hunting agents browbeat his aides and his campaign supporters to build a case against him, leaking tidbits to the press in the hope of breaking his resolve. The prosecutor loaded the charge sheet so heavily that Nolan concluded that he couldn’t risk going before a jury. Like roughly ninety-five per cent of people convicted in America, he pleaded guilty and took a lesser sentence rather than take his chances at trial. He began to wonder how many of the people he had dismissed as bad guys had simply succumbed to prosecutorial bullying. He said, “I saw that the F.B.I. and the government prosecutors weren’t interested in the truth, and that was a shock to me.”

By the standards of American incarceration, Nolan had it easy. He served twenty-five months in two prisons that housed the least menacing felons. The Federal Prison Camp at Dublin, near San Francisco, was a compound of former Army barracks surrounded by landscaped flower gardens. There was a small coterie of white-collar criminals, but the majority of the inmates were blacks and Latinos serving time for relatively minor drug convictions. Nolan helped organize religious-study groups, and—to judge by his accounts in an unpublished memoir—he treated his fellow-inmates as a constituency to be charmed. (He still corresponds with some of them.) From prison, Nolan produced a chatty newsletter that his wife, Gail, distributed to some two thousand supporters. He had regular visits from his family and a loyal band of political friends. After ten months, he was transferred to Geiger Corrections Center, near Spokane, where the supervision was even less oppressive. Still, his time in prison exposed him to what he came to see as the cynical cycle of American justice: sweep up young men, mostly from broken families in underprivileged neighborhoods, put them away for a while, send them back onto the streets with no skills, and repeat. To call this a “corrections” system seemed a sour joke.

“I had assumed they did all they could to help prepare the guys to return to society and make a better life,” Nolan told me. “But they were just warehousing them.” There was a pervasive sense of defeat. “The implication is: you’re worthless, you come from nothing, you are nothing, you’ll never be anything.” He added that when prisoners were released the guards would say, “See you in a few months.” He was surprised, too, at the number of elderly and infirm inmates. In his memoir, he wrote that “incarcerating people who aren’t a physical threat to society is expensive and counter-productive”—something that “only a nation that is rich and vindictive” would do.

Nolan was still an inmate when he ventured into the politics of reform. In 1994, in the California Political Review, he published an attack on that year’s crime bill—President Clinton’s signature contribution to mass incarceration, which earmarked $9.7 billion for prisons, imposed tougher sentences, and, among many punitive provisions, eliminated college grants for prison inmates.

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There are whole areas of policy where bipartisan consensus remains far out of reach. Guns, for starters, are untouchable. (Norquist likes to provoke liberals with the creative theory that the crime rate has fallen because more Americans have concealed-carry permits.) For most Republicans, outright legalization of drugs, even marijuana, “is one we can’t touch,” Nolan says. The idea of restoring voting rights to ex-felons, which has the support of Rand Paul and Nolan as well as Bernie Kerik, appeals to many Democrats but terrifies most Republicans. “They have this image of hordes of criminals” flocking to the polls to vote for Democrats, Nolan said. Conservatives tend to look more favorably on privatizing prisons, prison services, and probation, a scheme that liberals view with deep distrust. The death penalty, which divides the right, is not on the shared agenda.

The most significant question is whether conservatives are prepared to face the cost of the remedies, from in-prison education and job training to more robust probationary supervision and drug and mental-health treatment. Joan Petersilia, a criminologist who teaches at the Stanford Law School, points to the last great American exercise in decarceration, half a century ago: President Kennedy’s Community Mental Health Act, which aimed to reduce by half the number of patients in state mental hospitals. The promised alternatives—hundreds of community care facilities—were never fully funded, and thousands of deeply troubled people were liberated into homelessness. The mentally ill now make up a substantial portion of inmates in state prisons and county jails.

“The direction forward is not really clear, because, on the one hand, the right is saying less government, less spending,” Petersilia told me. “And the left is saying we need more investment.” She offers the example of California, which for nearly five years has been under a Supreme Court order to cull the overcrowded prisons that Nolan once helped build. “The success story of downsizing prisons in California is like nothing the nation has ever experienced,” she said. “We have downsized in less than five years twenty-five per cent of all prison populations. But look what is happening at the local, community level, which is that they’ve upsized jails, and they’ve got a homeless population, they’ve got police officers complaining about the mentally ill. We didn’t answer the question: if not prisons, what?”

Nolan agrees about the cost of alternatives: “In each of the Right on Crime states, we have insisted that a large part of the savings be put back into the system.” As for his home state, Nolan says, “we were not a part of that mess.” Nolan thinks that Governor Jerry Brown failed to plan adequate prison alternatives because “he just wanted to get the court off his back.” When conservatives did venture into California, last November, to help pass Proposition 47, the measure required that two-thirds of any money saved be funnelled into alternative correctional programs. Nolan said, “Conservatives have insisted that money be plowed into services because we know that just releasing prisoners or diverting them from prisons without services would increase crime.” That is true, but it tends to be relegated to the fine print in conservative reform literature. The headlines promise tremendous savings to taxpayers.

Nolan has another worry: that one sensational crime, or a spike in the crime rate, or the distraction of more polarizing issues could send Republicans and Democrats back to their corners. “We’ve all said we’re one bad incident away from having this erode on us,” he said. But if the bipartisan movement can accomplish the things it agrees on, Nolan has a wish list of additional reforms that he will pitch to conservatives. He would like to see abusive prosecutors lose their licenses. He would require the police to videotape interrogations from beginning to end, not just a confession that may have been improperly extracted.

And, mindful of the prisoners who have been exonerated while waiting on death row, he would like to end capital punishment.

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