CDCR Human Rights LA County Board of Supervisors LA County Jail Public Defender Zero Tolerance and School Discipline

Supervisors Ever-Changing Jail Plans, Vallejo Schools’ Restorative Justice Comeback…and More


On Tuesday, LA County Supervisor Gloria Molina withdrew her support for (and introduced a motion to cancel) a $75M contract to move 500 jail inmates to Taft Correctional Institution in Kern County. The Supes were unaware that there was ongoing litigation between the CDCR and Kern County. (Read the backstory here.)

An LA Times editorial says that the Supes should have known about the lawsuit before they voted in favor of the contract. The editorial pointed to several other instances in which the Supes, in their haste to ease overcrowding, made quick decisions on [often excessively costly] jail solutions that would have benefited from being thought through a little more thoroughly.

Here’s a clip:

Frankly, it’s hard to imagine how they could have been left in the dark about such an important matter as they were preparing to approve a $75-million contract. But this is not the first time the board has been forced at the last minute to rethink its plans for fixing the county’s sprawling jail system, which has been plagued by overcrowding, poor conditions and allegations that excessive force has been used against inmates. In May, for instance, the board hired a construction company to come up with a plan to replace the aging Men’s Central Jail and renovate other facilities. The company unveiled the plan this summer, just weeks before the Department of Justice announced it was launching a civil rights probe into the treatment of mentally ill inmates, including where and how they are housed. The plan is now under review; the supervisors fear it could be in conflict with the forthcoming findings by the Justice Department.

And at least four other proposals submitted in the last five years by Sheriff Lee Baca or county Chief Executive William T Fujioka have been voted down by the supervisors; they complained that the plans lacked basic information. The board has continued to turn solely to Baca for guidance even as is has increasingly expressed a lack of confidence in his ability to manage the jails, much less fix them.


The Superintendent of Vallejo schools Dr. Ramona Bishop is reconstructing the Vallejo school system, replacing deeply rooted zero-tolerance policies with restorative practices like Positive Behavioral Intervention and Support (PBIS). Just two years into her tenure, referrals, suspensions, and expulsions have dropped dramatically, and dropout rates are on the decline.

In her blog, ACEs Too High, journalist/child advocate, Jane Stevens tells of the heartening progress made in Vallejo. Here are some clips:

When Dr. Ramona Bishop walked into her office on April Fool’s Day in 2011, the Vallejo schools had hit rock-bottom: The system had been in receivership since 2004. Its 14,000 students were racking up nearly 80,000 referrals, suspensions, and expulsions that school year, making it one of the top ten suspending schools in the state. Academic scores had tanked. Only half the students were making it to graduation. And morale? What morale?


To turn around a whole system? That’ll take seven years, she says.

One-third of the way through the process, things are already looking up: Since the 2010-2011 school year, referrals have plummeted 75 percent. Suspensions dropped nearly 70 percent. Expulsions are down by 50 percent. Graduation rates are inching up from the 50-percent dropout rate. When she arrived, the system was losing 500 students a year, because parents were removing their children. This year, the system lost only 100 students, and Bishop expects an increase next year. In April, nine years after it went into receivership, the Vallejo Unified School district regained control of its schools.

And they have a long way to go: The numbers of referrals, suspensions and expulsions still total more than the numbers of students in the system. African-American students still make up more than half the referrals, suspensions and expulsions, even though they’re only 32 percent of the student population. Academic scores haven’t increased; during the last school year, they dipped or remained stagnant.

But the foundation to support a successful and sustainable transition is nearly in place, says Bishop.


If there’s a road map for a system of successful schools these days, says Bishop – one in which no student is expelled or suspended, and all students are educated, it includes these elements:

leaders who are strong, teachers and staff who are engaged, a committed community, involved parents, all of whom agree on common goals;

solid academics;

and a combination of the implementation of a system of trauma and resilience-informed practices, positive behavioral support, such as PBIS, and restorative practices based on restorative justice.

Although the details of the road map will vary from school to school, says Bishop, the basic belief that underlies such a road map is this:

There is no such thing as an uneducable child.

(Read the rest. There’s also a worthwhile interview with Superintendent Bishop.)


Earlier in October, the New Jersey Supreme Court upheld the conviction of Terrence Miller, a man who met with his lawyer for a few minutes before his hearing, and was denied a request for a continuance because the judge had an axe to grind with the public defenders’ office.

The Atlantic’s Andrew Cohen points out the numerous ways the system failed Terrence Miller—from the actions of his original judge, to the NJ appellate judges, to the Department of Justice and the US Supreme Court—and why the implications of his case are so important. Here are some clips:

In State v. Terrence Miller, four justices of the state supreme court—over a lone dissent—affirmed the conviction of a man indicted on drug charges who met his lawyer for the first time for a few minutes in a stairwell at the courthouse on the morning of trial. The lawyer had not tried a criminal case in seven years and had been appointed to Miller’s case only four days before trial. He never spoke to any witnesses, or to Miller’s former attorney, or to investigators in the public defender’s office. He didn’t know what his client would say on the witness stand.


When it comes to indigent defense, the Obama Administration gets an “A” for candor and an “F” for results. The feds know there is a terrible problem. And they know how to solve the problem. But they won’t spend, or push Congress to spend, what it would take to do it. This year, for example, the Justice Department proudly announced it would give $1.8 million in grants to “improve access to criminal legal services and strengthen indigent defense across the nation.” This is not remotely enough. Funding for legal aid and criminal defense “should be a priority,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor said Tuesday. She’s right.


But the biggest failing of all was the failure of the appellate judges to recognize and rectify these serious mistakes. The majority opinion here is one of the most indefensible I have ever read. The trial judge “would have better served the competing interests at stake” by adjourning the trial, the justices declared, but did not “abuse his discretion” when he didn’t. How can this be? Because the United States Supreme Court, in a series of cases that have undercut the premise of Gideon, have sent the unmistakable signal to lower court judges that the right to counsel is some malleable proposition. Tell that to a man who goes to trial with a public defender who doesn’t know a thing about his case.


As the Miller case tells us, however, money isn’t the only problem. Money for more public defenders, or for more judges to handle more indigent defense cases, won’t overturn the Supreme Court precedents upon which New Jersey relied in precluding Terrence Miller from a fair trial. The state justices held that a lawyer doesn’t have to know the facts of the case, or have any connection with any witnesses or evidence, for the client to be competently represented at trial. All the attorney has to do is show up, and declare himself prepared, and that’s that. Money alone, I submit, simply can’t overcome this level of crazy.

Here is what the lone dissenting NJ Supreme Court Justice Barry T. Albin had to say about this troubling case:

No attorney can provide effective representation at a motion-to-suppress hearing [or any kind of hearing for that matter] if he has not spoken with his client beforehand, listened to his account, interviewed his witnesses, or prepared him for his testimony. Miller had witnesses waiting in the wings but his attorney could not call them because he had not spoken with his client. Sitting next to Miller was a total stranger who happened to be his state-appointed attorney. The failure of the attorney to consult with Miller in any meaningful fashion, to prepare him for his testimony, and to present corroborating witnesses at the motion-to-suppress hearing rendered the attorney per se ineffective.


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