Criminal Justice

Reports on Body Cams and Education in Juvie Detention….Who’s Right About Whether Prop. 47 Increased Crime?…and John Oliver Talks Re-Entry


Law enforcement agencies across the nation are rolling out new body camera programs to increase transparency and accountability to the public. And as the debate about the positives and negatives of officer-worn body cameras heats up, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and Upturn, have released an examination of 25 police departments’ body cam policies that looks at whether those policies are adequately protecting citizens’ civil rights.

Included on the scorecard were the Los Angeles Police Department, the San Francisco Police Department, and the Oakland Police Department. Researchers evaluated the departments on eight criteria, including whether the body cam policy was made available to the public, whether officers could view video before filing reports or statements, and whether officers were given discretion on when to start recording.

The LAPD received positive marks for limiting officers’ discretion, and releasing the body-worn camera policy to the public, but negative marks in other areas. For instance, the department requires officers to review footage before writing reports. (In contrast, the LA County Sheriff’s Dept. requires the officers to provide statements before viewing footage.) The LAPD does not generally make footage available to people filing complaints and has not publicly addressed how long the department will retain footage.

Back in July, WLA attended a panel at KPCC’s Crawford Family Forum to discuss these very issues, with particular emphasis on how much access the public should have to the body cam videos. And in September, the US Department of Justice gave $1.1 million to the LAPD to purchase the cameras, despite ACLU of Southern California protests about the department’s policy to keep most video footage of officer-involved shootings under wraps.

In absence of comprehensive civil rights safeguards sewn into body cam policies, “these devices could become instruments of injustice, rather than tools of accountability,” said Wade Henderson, president of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “We hope that our scorecard will encourage reform and help departments develop body camera policies that promote accountability and protect the rights of those being recorded.”


Only thirteen states actually provide education services (including credit recovery programs, GED preparation, and postsecondary classes) for incarcerated kids that equal the quality of education-related services that kids receive at public schools in their communities, according to a first-of-its-kind study by the Council of State Governments Justice Center.

“Educationally, these kids have fallen way behind their peers,” said Kent McGuire, head of the Southern Education Foundation. “It’s hard to think of a group of youth more acutely in need of educational services.”

Even fewer states—just nine—ensure locked-up kids have access to the same quality vocational services as their peers on the outside.

And states generally don’t collect enough data on education in juvenile detention facilities, either, according to the report. Less than a third of states were tracking how many kids released from detention facilities went on to finish high school.

In nearly half of states, kids were not automatically enrolled at a public school, once released, the re-enrollment responsibility was left up to parents. Kids were enrolled in (generally underperforming) alternative schools upon their release, in a third of states.

One particularly interesting recommendation to fix some of these issues, was to designate a single entity to oversee kids’ transition back into public schools or into vocational programs, once they exit lock-up.

The study data came from a survey of agencies in all 50 states.


In a video message that was part of a series of Prop. 47-related editorials in the LA Times, LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell said the year-old California law is responsible for higher crime rates. (link) Many law enforcement officials agree.

Just a few days before McDonnell’s video editorial messages, Stanford released a controversial report suggesting that because there was only a 5% recidivism rate among those who were released under Prop. 47, rising crime rates in California should not be attributed to the 2014 law. (link)

Who is right about the outcome (so far) of Prop. 47? Maybe both, or maybe neither.

LA Times editorial board member Rob Greene says that the opposing arguments are missing key components and some context. Here’s a clip:

Of the 4,454 state prisoners who were able to leave prison early because they had felonies reclassified as misdemeanors, 159 have returned to prison for committing new crimes in the last year. That’s a return-to-prison rate of less than 5%. And yes, that’s incredibly low, especially when compared with the pre-Proposition 47 general return-to-prison rate of 42%.

And that’s important, because much of the criticism of Proposition 47, as with many criminal justice reform measures, is that it endangers the public by releasing serious and violent criminals “early” – or at least earlier than they would have been released without the reform. These numbers point to a weakness in that argument. The more serious and violent offenders often have a fairly low recidivism rate compared with the general jail and prison population.

As the report notes, though, recidivism has necessarily been measured only for the one year since Proposition 47 passed, not the three years that’s become the standard for recidivism measurements.

And it counts only offenders who left prison within the last year because of Proposition 47 and already have gone back — to prison — after having committed new crimes. It doesn’t count new convictions that might have resulted in jail or probation. Nor does it count arrests. That’s a big deal, because if a meth addict who got out of prison continues to take meth and steals in increments of less than $950 to support his habit, now he’s not going to be arrested for it. Or else he’s going to go to jail — but because he’s not going to state prison, this study doesn’t include him as a recidivist. More time and more study will be needed for a fuller picture.

McDonnell says Proposition 47 has increased crime, but he’s not blaming those people referred to in the Stanford study. He’s got a different population on his mind — the drug and theft offenders who used to get arrested and held in jail pending trial. Instead of getting arrested, those people are now just getting citations and orders to appear in court. Few actually show up for their court dates…

Since the measure passed a year ago, up to the time when these videos were shot in mid-October, according to the sheriff’s numbers, 43,062 people in Los Angeles County were arrested for crimes that used to be felonies but now, because of Proposition 47, are misdemeanors. Of those, 21,030, or nearly half, have been arrested again for an additional 39,939 crimes, including 26 murders, 14 rapes and 83 robberies.

Those numbers would appear to support the critics’ basic argument: When you don’t jail these people on drug and other relatively minor charges, they are free to commit all manner of more serious crimes, including murder, rape and robbery, and they do.

But there are some problems with that argument. Before Proposition 47, many of those accused criminals would have been arrested and jailed, but then would have bailed out — so they’d have been on the street anyway, still able to commit those more serious crimes. A complete study would compare McDonnell’s numbers with a similar group that got arrested, jailed and bailed out.


John Oliver has been on a roll on his HBO show, Last Week Tonight, featuring areas of the criminal justice system desperately in need of reform, from cash bail to civil asset forfeiture to mandatory minimums.

This Sunday, Oliver shined a light on the incredible odds stacked against people exiting prison and re-entering their communities. Former felony offenders face tons of roadblocks to education, housing, employment, public assistance, and more. And many former offenders are carted right back into the prison system because of minor parole violations.

Oliver ends the show in conversation with Bilal Chatman, a man who beat the odds after being released from prison, landing a good job and starting a new life. “I’m not that prisoner today,” Bilal told Oliver. “I’m a taxpayer. I work. I’m a citizen. I’m a voter. That’s who I want to be. Those are the things that define me today.”

Watch the full segment above.

1 Comment

  • Inequality in education for incarcerated youth has a foundational back story in LA County. To truly report the issue to your LA County readers, a thorough coverage on educational services offered to incarcerated youth would be helpful. Do they get vocational services? Credit recovery? College classes? Are they receiving GED opportunities while in custody? What is the graduation rate? Are they improving their reading levels? What efforts are made for continuity upon release? Education is one of the few solid exit plans for the life they live and the future they may pursue.

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