LA Supes Consider Jail Project, Disciplined Kern County Students Face Meager Education Alternatives…and MoreJuly 17th, 2013 by Taylor Walker
LA COUNTY SUPERVISORS TAKE STEPS TOWARD NEW JAIL FACILITIES
The LA County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to consider (and revisit in four weeks time) a report from Vanir Construction Management with five options for rebuilding Men’s Central Jail and a new women’s facility ranging in price from $1.3 billion to $1.6 billion. (For WLA’s previous reporting on the jail plan go here.)
LA Times’ Seema Mehta and Abby Sewell have the story. Here’s how it opens:
Concerned that federal authorities could soon intervene in the operation of Los Angeles County’s outdated jail system, the Board of Supervisors took a significant step Tuesday toward replacing the Men’s Central Jail and renovating other facilities to reduce crowding and increase mental health services for prisoners.
The board voted unanimously to accept a report from consultants who outlined five jail renovation options.
All options included tearing down and replacing the cornerstone of the nation’s largest jail system — the Men’s Central Jail — and reconfiguring other existing facilities.
Supervisors were wary of the $1.3-billion to $1.6-billion price tag — if approved, it would be the county’s largest building project ever. But they were more concerned about jail conditions prompting the federal government to wrest away control.
They repeatedly cited a similar dilemma facing state officials, who were ordered by federal judges earlier this year to release 9,600 prisoners or find another cure for overcrowding.
The board voted to accept the consultants’ report, and to revisit the matter in four weeks. In the meantime, county officials were directed to answer questions about existing operations and to amend the agreement with Vanir so the firm can begin analyzing staffing and operational costs for the various proposals. Officials will also find out whether the county can use a $100-million state grant now earmarked for a new women’s facility at the Pitchess Detention Center to instead adapt existing facilities at Mira Loma to house female inmates.
After the Supervisors’ vote, the majority of the public commenters expressed frustration at the proposed jail plan and urged the Board to reject the costly building of new facilities in favor of community-based alternatives. Esther Lim from the ACLU pointed out the incongruity of having a construction contractor produce a study looking at whether or not the county should be building expensive new jails.
The objective of the study is to find out who is inside our jails, who will be entering our jails, and who should be in our jails. However, it was disappointing to learn that the county’s executive office hired a construction group to do that comprehensive assessment. It was not surprising that a construction company, in its report, proposed five options, all involving construction costing billions…The goal is two-fold—to reduce recidivism and increase safety and to reduce operational costs. These can be achieved [by] alternatives to incarceration, such as split-sentencing and the diversion of the mentally ill. Vanir merely listed alternatives.
HARSH DISCIPLINE FROM KERN COUNTY SCHOOLS MEANS STUDENTS LEFT BY THE WAYSIDE
The Center for Investigative Reporting’s Susan Ferriss has an excellent story about the scant education options available to kids who have been expelled from schools in Kern County due to harsh zero tolerance policies. When kids are banned from attending schools in regular districts, they are told to go to county schools. When county-operated schools are too far to attend, students have no choice but to turn to independent study programs, which means that, these kids, often already struggling in school before expulsion, only receive four-and-a-half hours of instructor time and are left to teach themselves the remainder of the week.
Here’s how it opens:
On a blistering May day in California’s Central Valley, most other 13-year-olds were in classrooms down the road. But Erick Araujo was under strict orders from his mother to stay inside with a U.S. history textbook.
Despite the orders, the seventh-grader didn’t really have much to do. Over four days, while his buddies were finishing up the school year, Erick’s only task was to read three chapters from the book and answer, briefly, a few questions per chapter.
“Pretty easy,” the boy with braces said with a shrug, leafing through pages.
He had no math. No English. No science. And no other books to engage his love of history.
But this could be how Erick gets his education for months to come, at least until he’s halfway through eighth grade in early 2014.
That’s because in February, Erick was expelled for a year from Lost Hills’ only junior high, A.M. Thomas Middle School, and told to enroll at a “community school” for kids with discipline problems that is run by Kern County. But that school is 38 miles away – so far away that staff there suggested Erick’s mom put him on independent study at home. She would have to drive him to the North Kern Community School in Delano only one day a week, so he could get in a minimum of 4½ hours of weekly face time with an actual teacher.
For Erick’s mom, Nereida Vasquez, this seems like a strange way to expect her son to fulfill his “rehabilitation plan.” Instead, she said, she thinks educators have cast Erick adrift in Lost Hills, a hardscrabble town surrounded by some of the world’s richest groves of fruit and nut trees, vineyards and vegetable crops.
“He’s already told me that he should just drop out and go to work in the fields,” an exasperated Vasquez said in Spanish, her dominant language.
Erick’s circumstances aren’t unique. Hundreds of disciplined kids his age are put on independent study in Kern County. Youth advocates say Erick’s situation typifies a troubling pattern of authorities removing students from regular school and dispatching them to alternative campuses, where plans sometimes seem disturbingly casual – including long stretches of stay-at-home independent study.
The seventh-grader’s experience also reflects national concerns about the effectiveness of harsh school discipline and about a widening school-achievement divide between affluent children and lower-income, often Latino or black students.
SEXUAL ABUSE BY CATHOLIC CLERGY IN SANTA BARBARA
Sam Slovic of Mission and State has written a painful and extremely well-crafted and documented story about the awful history of abuse of kids by clergy in Santa Barbara, which for a period may actually have been a dumping ground, of sorts, for abusing priests. What unfolds in the course of the narrative—and its underlying documents and testimony—-is not some isolated instances, or one pedophile priest who did awful damage to a string of kids, but a possible “culture of abuse,” that reportedly involved one forth of the clergy at a single institution, during a 23-year span from 1964 to 1987. And that was only one of a list of local schools and churches that were allegedly affected.
The story, called Sacred Monsters, is multimedia and then some, in that there are videos, piles of documents to search, and an interactive timeline. The work is important and makes for a very engrossing—if painful—read. Here’s a clip:
St. Anthony’s Seminary held its first classes at the Garden Street property in 1901, with the mission of grooming young men for the clergy, which it did for decades before closing ignominiously in 1987. By then, it had sealed its fate as one of the charter institutions in the Catholic clergy’s emerging sex abuse crisis.
With the children now gone for the day, the birds settle back into the tall trees around the Garden Street Academy, and the afternoon turns calm. Across the street, Paul Fericano can be found in a shady patch in the back of the Mission. He is contemplating a large boulder with a bronze plaque on its face and the larger context within which it exists. The boulder, a symbol of St. Anthony’s grim legacy, carries talismanic freight for Fericano.
Fericano had been a student at St. Anthony’s in the 1960s at the height of the abuse, decades before the scope and extent of its horrors were revealed. Fericano says a Franciscan priest named Mario Cimmarrusti repeatedly assaulted him while he was studying to be a priest himself. Court documents and personnel files released under a judge’s orders in 2012 would eventually depict Cimmarrusti as a particularly prolific perpetrator.
“This is where it all began in 1992 and ’93. It all broke here. It was huge,” Fericano says.
He is referring to the national reaction when an Independent Board of Inquiry submitted its findings in November 1993 to Father Joseph P. Chinnici, provincial minister of the Province of Saint Barbara. The board, comprised of mental health professionals, lay people and clergy, had convened in January to deal with allegations of rampant abuse of minors by St. Anthony’s clergy during a 23-year span from 1964 to 1987. The board sent letters of inquiry to as many alumni and their families as it could find addresses for. Three hundred men responded.