NEW PILOT PROGRAM TO PROMOTE READING AND SELF ESTEEM IS HUGE HIT WITH KIDS LOCKED-UP IN PROBATION CAMPS
We’re going to do a longer story on this pilot program next month, as we think it points beyond itself to a host of important issues. But in the meantime, read Theresa Watanabe’s excellent story for the LA Times on “Freedom School.”
Here’s a clip from the opening:
At 8 a.m., the energy was already rising at a gathering in the affluent community of La Verne, nestled beneath the San Gabriel Valley foothills. Nearly 80 boys sang, cheered and chanted as participants shared inspirational readings, gave selected shout-outs and led a visualization to “breathe in love.”
The feel-good assembly was Los Angeles County’s latest initiative to improve the literacy skills of its juvenile offenders — in this case, teenagers convicted of robbery, assault, rape and other crimes who are serving time at Camp Afflerbaugh probation camp.
After years of damning reports and a class-action lawsuit alleging educational neglect of juvenile offenders, the county has launched a wide-ranging effort to remedy failing practices and boost the quality of teaching.
Under new county schools chief Arturo Delgado, the Office of Education and the Probation Department are teaming up to bring the students better instructors, more rigorous academics and a broader array of job opportunities, such as sewing and construction programs.
At Challenger Memorial Youth Center in Lancaster, which was targeted in the 2010 lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union, students allegedly received diplomas they couldn’t read. But under a legal settlement that prompted new programs to improve reading, math, student behavior and teacher skills, test scores have begun to increase and discipline problems have sharply declined.
“It was a wasteland for education,” said David Sapp, an ACLU staff attorney. “But things have improved dramatically.”
The county’s latest educational initiative is called Freedom School, a summer literacy program that includes the high-energy morning gathering — known as “Harambee,” which means “Let’s pull together” in Swahili….
JUVENILE ATTORNEYS PAID DISASTROUSLY LOW FEES, JUSTICE SUFFERS
This LA Times Op Ed by Cyn Yamashiro lays out what is going on in the world of court appointed attorneys for kids charged with a crime who can’t afford a lawyer. It is a must read.
Yamashiro is the director of the Center for Juvenile Law and Policy at Loyola Law School, and he knows this issue cold. It’s a matter that we too plan to be keeping an eye on, because it’s so crucial that the system be fixed.
Here’s a clip from his essay:
Three hundred fifty dollars. That’s the amount Los Angeles County pays a private attorney to represent a child charged with crimes when the public defender has a conflict of interest and can’t handle the case. That $350 has to cover all legal work, even when the child is charged with a serious crime such as murder or rape. About 11,000 kids a year end up being represented by such appointed counsel.
Here’s how it commonly works. Let’s say two 15-year-olds are caught with a six-pack of beer and charged with illegal possession of alcohol. Because they may have incentives to testify against each other, the rules of legal ethics require that different law firms represent them. So, typically, one would be represented by the public defender while the other’s case would be contracted out to an attorney earning a total fee of $350.
This compensation system has created profound inequalities in the legal services provided to children.
Public defenders are hired through a highly selective national recruiting process. They are trained by senior attorneys and work in an office that rewards zealous advocacy with promotions and raises.
The county requires no vetting of appointed attorneys, nor does it have requirements for special training or experience. They are not held to meaningful performance standards. The public defender, unlike an appointed attorney, has access to a staff of investigators, support attorneys and social workers to assist in preparing a case. Although both a public defender and an appointed attorney may request that experts be appointed by the court, clients of the public defender are twice as likely to have those experts appointed. The courts rarely if ever appoint investigators, so kids without public defenders are out of luck on that front.
There’s lots more, so we strongly recommend reading it all.
BLUE RIBBON COMMISSION ON CHILD PROTECTION MEETS, PLUS YAROSLAVSKY AND KNABE PICK THEIR COMMISSIONERS
The first meeting for the county’s new Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection is scheduled to take place at 9 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 1, in the Board Supervisors’ Hearing Room. The agenda for this initial meeting is short, but it is the first outing for the 10-member commission, which is tasked with coming up with a strategy to straighten out LA County’s reform-resistant foster care system.
The commission, which was voted into being in late June, is made of up two former judges, some long-time juvenile advocates, a couple of former Board of Education members, a well-liked former head of DCFS who fled the place, a special victims expert from the LA County Sheriff’s Department, a former foster kid turned school superintendent, the former head of LACMA and the Dean of USC’s School of Social Work. In other words a varied list of reasonably heavy hitters, whom it should be intriguing to observe.
ZEV YAROSLAVSKY AND DON KNABE ARE THE NEWEST TO MAKE THIER CHOICES
Each of the Supes picked two of the commission members.
The most recent to be announced are those chosen by Zev Yaroslavsky–Terry Friedman and Leslie Gilbert-Lurie—and by Don Knabe: Janet Teague and Gabriella Holt.
Friedman is a former Supervising Judge for the Juvenile Dependency Court and former Presiding Judge of Juvenile Court. Plus he’s a former state assemblyman, and served as the Executive Director of Bet Tzedek Legal Services, a highly respected non-profit agency offering legal assistance to LA’s low-income residents.
Gilbert-Lurie is an attorney, author, educator, the past Chair of the Alliance for Children’s Rights, and a former entertainment industry executive, plus she served for 14 years on the Los Angeles County Board of Education.
Teague served for more than a decade on the Los Angeles County Commission for Children and Families and has also served on the board for the Alliance for Children’s Rights.
Gabriella Holt is a past member of the Los Angeles County Board of Education and the Palos Verdes Peninsula Board of Education. She currently serves as a Probation Commissioner, and “has diverse
knowledge of issues impacting at-risk children.”