Posts Tagged ‘Jerry Brown’

Better Outcomes for Juveniles – Maybe

September 18, 2013

My post today in Justice Not Jails.

Better Outcomes for Juveniles — Maybe

September 18, 2013 By Diane Lefer

Monday evening, Governor Brown signed Senate Bill 260 into law, making it possible for prisoners who received extreme sentences as juveniles to have their sentences reviewed and perhaps reduced after serving ten years. The news brought happy tears to my eyes.

Three years ago, I was in the courtroom when Tedi Snyder was sentenced 32-years-to-life following an incident in which no one was killed and for which Tedi was never convicted of being the shooter. The crime occurred months after this 15-year-old child had himself been shot in the head and was then shot again.

Tedi Snyder at age 18

Tedi Snyder at age 18

Mitigating circumstances and Tedi’s exemplary record in Juvie didn’t count. The judge who heard the case seemed fair and concerned. In fact, with Tedi facing a possible 80-years-to-life, he got the least extreme sentence the judge could hand down, constrained by mandatory minimums and sentence enhancements that left little room for judicial discretion.

Immediately afterward, in the hallway, Kim McGill of the Youth Justice Coalition promised Tedi’s heartbroken father that the group would never give up on his son and would continue the fight to bring him home. Honestly, at that time I did not think there was any chance of success.

There are other potential game changers in the works for juvenile justice as I learned, also on the evening of September 16, when LA County Probation Chief Jerry Powers spoke at his first Town Hall at the meeting of the Public Safety and Justice Committee of the Empowerment Congress in the offices of County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.

Powers, who took up his post in December 2011, has already done what his predecessors failed to do: he has restored the role of Probation in juvenile arrest cases which now go first to his department instead of directly to the District Attorney’s office which had a penchant for charging kids as adults and seeking stiff penalties regardless of the circumstances of the case. Probation now does an assessment to identify young people who can safely be diverted to programs outside the court system.

Probation Dept. Chief Jerry Powers

Probation Dept. Chief Jerry Powers

His department is creating juvenile day reporting centers to reduce the number of young people who have to be sent to camps or juvenile halls. Ninety-day commitments to camps? “More disruptive to them than good,” he said, and as for juvenile halls, “You put a kid in an institution and that’s something you can never erase from their brains.” There are now several hundred fewer kids in camps and halls than when he took the job. “School-based probation officers and diversion programs are starting to take effect.”

As for the camps themselves, which are still being monitored by the US Department of Justice due to historically abusive conditions, Powers insists he will fire staff members who abuse children or enter into inappropriate relationships with probationers. “We deserved to get our butts kicked,” he acknowledged. “It was not a way to treat kids regardless of what they’d done.”
One deputy addressed the meeting to speak up for his colleagues who take a beating in the media in spite of their dedicated work and commitment to the kids. “We don’t need encouragement though it would be nice,” he said “But a knock on the head? We don’t need it!”

Indeed, Powers was very clear: While the media has rightly condemned the wrongdoers, what gets overlooked is that his department has 6,500 staff members “and 6,350 of them are great – the best you’ll ever see.”

Powers is working on school improvements in tandem with Arturo Delgado who assumed office (at about the same time Powers did) as Superintendent of LACOE (LA County Office of Education) which has responsibility for educating youth on probation. He wants to expand meaningful vocational training, such as the construction trades program introduced at Camp Challenger in Lancaster. Delgado has cut down on the use of substitute teachers, important because, as Powers said, “with kids, relationships are half the battle.”

This past summer, two camps welcomed Freedom Schools and became pilots for introducing to juvenile facilities the innovative educational program created by Marian Wright Edelman’s Children’s Defense Fund. Powers said he was amazed to see teenagers standing up and participating enthusiastically instead of sitting around in the back of class. Asked if this meant he would expand the program to all probation facilities, he said instead of more summer programs, he’d like to incorporate some of the Freedom School’s approach into the year-round educational system.

Young people from the Youth Justice Coalition along with program coordinator Kruti Parekh were in the house and not so easily convinced. Youth told of abusive conditions they’d experienced in lockup and pushed for details on whether community college courses and vocational certificate training would be offered. Parekh asked what percentage of youth actually gets to participate in vocational programs such as the one at Camp Challenger.

Kruti Parekh of Youth Justice Coalition

Kruti Parekh of Youth Justice Coalition

Powers didn’t have figures to offer. He did say, “You’re probably not going to see 100% come out with a vocational certificate. It’s not appropriate for everyone.” He wants the camps to specialize more. “Now you have a full spectrum at each location,” he said, pointing out, for example, “Some kids need substance abuse treatment, some don’t.”

YJC wanted to know why youth of color are targeted by law enforcement and asked that statistics be kept. (Statistics on DMC – Disproportionate Minority Contact – are being compiled by the W. Haywood Burns Institute) Powers explained his department has no control over what stops and arrests are made by the police, but he hopes that having first look at cases and being able to divert kids away from the court system will reduce the disproportionate impact on youth of color.

Parekh asked if Powers would support the YJC’s campaign that would allocate 1% of the county’s law enforcement budget for intervention. But to Powers, intervention is Probation’s mission: “Your premise is that Probation doesn’t do any good.” (But her premise is that funding for 25,000 youth jobs, 50 youth centers and 500 full-time community intervention/peacebuilders could also reach young people before contact with law enforcement.)

Powers, whose department is responsible for adult probationers as well as youth, encountered other skeptics upon his appointment. He ran into disagreements with the union through his intention to hire about 500 new staff members and look for specific skill sets instead of allowing current employees to move into newly created positions. There were concerns that a man who’d spent ten years as chief in small Stanislaus County wouldn’t be up to managing the largest probation system in the country. But Powers, who has already lasted longer in the position than his immediate predecessors, also had extensive and valuable experience dealing with the legislature on justice issues.

Seven years ago, with the state then, as now, under court order to address overcrowding, he helped negotiate a deal to cut arrests and recidivism by putting money into prevention: education, mental health and drug treatment. The legislature shot it down, telling him no action was needed as no way would the federal court order California to release prisoners. The lawmakers were wrong. Jerry Brown now proposes sending prisoners out-of-state and into private facilities while the Senate is finally embracing the prevention plan, hoping the court will extend the December 31 deadline by which time the prison population must be reduced. Given the state’s failure to fully comply with the court order over the last 20 years, Powers thinks it unlikely the deadline will be extended. At best, he thinks, prevention must be a long term solution.

Prison overcrowding also presented Powers with one of his biggest challenges. When he arrived on the job in LA, AB 109 – “adult realignment” had sent 15,000 low level offenders from state prison to LA County jail and the probation department, rather than the department of corrections, was put in charge of their supervision. Again, contrary to media reports, “Not a single one of these prisoners was released a single day early.” Yes, once they’d served their full terms, many reoffended. But “These are low level offenders and they are more likely to reoffend than murderers.” Drug users, for example, who come home without any substance abuse treatment behind bars or in-patient treatment upon release, will typically go right back to drug use.
“I wish we’d had two years to prepare,” Powers said. “Programs, treatment, beds, staffing in place. I started work in December about 60 days after this thing started. so we’ve been scrambling.” Nothing was easy. Not only did he need to hire hundreds of new personnel, he had to find office space for them. Service providers that wanted to expand their programs to meet the new need ran into problems with neighbors who didn’t want that sort of population nearby.

To help with community relationships, Powers is moving top level managers out of the Downey headquarters and into the communities being affected and served.

The outreach coordinator for one of those potential service providers – the youth development program of CRCD (Coalition for Responsible Community Development) – wanted to know how to develop a relationship with Probation.

“We tend to be standoffish,” Powers admitted. “Many times we’ve seen individuals who have good intentions, but the worst thing we can do is hook a kid up with someone who fails them again, so there are hoops to go through.” But solid organizations shouldn’t be discouraged and he said he’d put her in touch with the right people to call.

A YJC member who was previously incarcerated at Camp Kilpatrick said, “The programs that helped me were by community members who weren’t paid and had to drive up there.”

“Show us the money!” said a community worker.

It can be a vicious cycle. Unfunded or underfunded programs are more likely to be short lived or less than 100% reliable. The more a program relies on volunteers, the less likely it is to win contracts and establish itself on firmer ground. (A model might be Susan Burton’s A New Way of Life Re-Entry project which provides services for formerly incarcerated women but has also begun to mentor and enter into partnership with smaller new providers.)

Whether dealing with youthful or adult offenders, Powers reiterated how important it is to start educational and rehabilitative programs to build learning into a daily routine when the person is still inside. Otherwise, “They just sit on their bunk, they get out, they hit the sunlight and the concrete and they’re gone.”

So what’s next?

Certainly, Powers espouses a refreshing philosophy. He sees the value in restorative justice programs. (Pepperdine University will soon introduce a restorative justice program in Camp Gonzalez.) Powers believes probation operates with a different mindset than the parole department with their law enforcement orientation: his department seeks to “engage offenders and deal with their risks and their needs rather than tail ‘em, nail ‘em, jail ‘em.” He sees the mission of probation as helping individuals who’ve made mistakes go on to redeem themselves as persons and he asks the public to believe as he does, that his organization, too, can learn from past mistakes. He gives credit to the DOJ and the advocates and community organizations that held Probation’s feet to the fire.

The question now is implementation.

Three years ago, Donald Blevins, the new (and short lived) Probation Chief thought his department had to be cleaned up before it could think about diverting juvenile cases away from adult court. And three years ago, when I wrote for LA Progressive about Tedi Snyder’s case and others like it, I did not have much hope that Kim McGill’s promise could be fulfilled. Though Tedi isn’t coming home tomorrow, now I believe he will come home long before 32 years.

So there has been progress. Today, I feel optimism, but no certainty. A new way of justice appears to be a possibility, but there are no guarantees.

As the Town Hall drew to a close, Parekh asked, “Can we do this once a month in different supervisory districts?”

“Can we do this with staff?” asked a deputy.

“All 6500 of them?” asked Powers.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

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Culver City to the Inglewood Oil Field: Frack You!

June 15, 2012

Just up in LA Progressive:

by Diane Lefer

Since I don’t ordinarily attend Chamber of Commerce meetings or Tea Party gatherings, I’m not used to hearing hundreds of people object to new regulations for industry, but when the California Department of Conservation sent representatives from the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) to Culver City on June 12 for a workshop seeking input on how to regulate fracking, the community response was close to unanimous: Don’t regulate!

What the standing-room-only and overflow crowd of several hundred people wanted instead was a total ban.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, makes it possible to exploit oil and gas resources that were formerly too difficult or expensive to reach — factors which, until recently, left California’s oil fields in a state of decline. Today, horizontal drilling techniques make it possible to access distant sources. Then, the high-pressure injection of water mixed with chemicals forces the oil or gas up to where it can be pumped or skimmed off the surface, but the process is controversial enough that it has been entirely banned by the State of Vermont and the whole country of France.

Fracking is already taking place in California though the locations, extent and frequency are unknown.

Culver City mayor Andy Weissman called for a moratorium until DOGGR could assure the community that fracking poses no threat to air quality, water quality, ground movement, or public health. Culver City would act alone, he said, but the municipality had been told only DOGGR had the authority. Besides, the problem is multi-jurisdictional and regional. Culver City is concerned about accidents and negative impacts from the 1,000-acre Inglewood Oil Field, Weissman explained, but has no say over what happens in the 90% of the field lying in unincorporated LA County.


Residents of Culver City, Baldwin Hills, and adjacent areas already know what it’s like to cope with polluted air and noxious odors, sinkholes, cracks in their houses, contamination with toxic sludge (like that which closed the popular Boneyard Dog Park for months), and memories of disasters including the breached Baldwin Hills dam that flooded the area killing five and destroying 277 homes, said Gary Gless of Citizens Coalition for a Safe Community. In recent years, after PXP (Plains Exploration and Production Company) acquired the field and ramped up production, he said, the area has seen increased rates of cancer and lung disease. Not to mention anxiety over drilling around the Newport-Inglewood fault.

Risks and impact reported elsewhere in the country include seismic activity in Ohio and water contaminated with toxins in Wyoming. The oil and gas industry says there is no evidence for any of this or, as a supporter said on Tuesday, opponents to fracking were influenced by “political science rather than real science.”

Forbes was happy to report that the EPA determined fracking was not the cause of Ohio’s tremors but also reported that the seismic activity was attributed to injection of wastewater into deep disposal wells. (Much of the recent increase in volume of such waste came from drilling and fracking.) And where is the “real science” to come from? For example, in Pennsylvania — the state most affected so far by fracking, physicians treating patients for toxic exposure have had to sign confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements before gas and oil companies would reveal the chemicals added to water in the process. This information cannot be communicated to patients or public health agencies, making it impossible to conduct epidemiological studies. The federal Safe Drinking Water Act of 2005 created the so-called Halliburton loophole, exempting chemicals and other fluids injected during the fracking process from provisions meant to protect the public.

Industry representatives spoke up to remind everyone of the importance of the oil industry and energy security while local residents argued that any dependence on fossil fuels leaves us insecure and headed for climate change disaster.

Uncertainty should mandate caution. “The harm can be incalculable,” Weissman said. “There are no do-overs.”

When Jim Waterhouse of Citizens Climate Lobby asked, “How many people feel regulation can work?”, only one hand went up though there were several industry representatives in attendance — either shy, discreet, or, as Nick Ortiz of the Western States Petroleum Association later told us, they believe existing regulations are already “robust.”

So “robust” that now, without new regulations, said Jason Marshall, DOGGR’s chief deputy director, the State can’t even require the industry to report where they are fracking and what chemicals they are using. All reporting is now voluntary.

Even if mandated, reports would be compiled by FracFocus, a clearinghouse that activists deride because many of the commissioners who oversee the program are industry executives or lobbyists.

Regulation, argued community members, would give fracking legitimacy or, as one resident put it, decide in how orderly a manner we can go about destroying the environment. And no matter how restrictive regulations might be, without the resources for inspection and enforcement and with minimal consequences for violations, regulations promise a degree of protection they cannot provide.

But a woman who leases her land to an oil company insisted the residents’ complaints were about drilling, not fracking.

Exactly. “How can we trust you on fracking,” Patricia McPherson, president of Grassroots Coalition, challenged DOGGR, “when we can’t get you to regulate regular oil fields?”

Other reasons for distrust: According to DOGGR, the process which has become so controversial on the East Coast is very different from what occurs or will occur in California. In the East, fracking is used to extract gas from shale. Here, we don’t have shale. (What about the Monterey shale that extends from the north right down through the LA basin and which is already being exploited?) In California, we were told, oil is extracted, not the riskier process for gas. (But Bloomberg recently reported that Jerry Brown is considering opening the state to fracking “to increase natural-gas production.”)

The simple diagrams and schematics DOGGR displayed reminded one speaker “of nothing more than Colin Powell in front of the United Nations,” while former mayor Steve Gourley was indignant that the DOGGR reps had not brought a map of Culver City showing the affected areas or apparently ever walked through the Inglewood Oil Field to see the contamination firsthand. Another former mayor, Gary Silbiger, called on the community to organize and plan a protest trip to Sacramento.

Some speakers were appreciative that DOGGR was listening — it seemed for the first time — to community members and not only to industry representatives and lobbyists. But why were only seven meetings planned? None for Carson, said Latrice Carter where the community has been frustrated over the environmental problems caused by Occidental Petroleum and wasn’t notified of the Culver City event. According to Yvonne Watson, PXP is drilling in the Montebello Hills and has a history of failing to maintain records of leaks. And why are the meetings only in English when so many oil operations are located in immigrant communities?

But perhaps of greatest concern: how much authority does DOGGR actually have? Officially, the division’s responsibility is for the permitting process for new wells, setting standards for well casings, and plugging abandoned wells that are idle and hazardous. Air
quality and water quality are issues for other State agencies.

“I leave these meetings with my head hurting because I feel like it’s all smoke and mirrors.” said Ronda Brown, at-large representative of Empowerment Congress West Area Neighborhood Development Council. What she wanted to know was, does DOGGR actually have the authority not just to write regulations but to ban fracking altogether.

Marshall’s answer was a surprise: “Yes, we do have the authority to ban fracking.” But he added, “We start at the supposition that these practices can be regulated safely, but if we discover through this process that it can’t be, yes we can ban.”

Gathering evidence, then, is crucial. He thanked the registered nurse who provided medical journal articles about fracking and he urged people who know of other studies to send the information to him. He was realistic, however. There would also be input from industry and lobbyists and legislators. If DOGGR did decide to impose a ban, they would have to show evidence to the Office of Administrative Law and prove the ban was reasonable. If approved at that step, the proposed ban would be posted for more public comment. A final draft would also have to be approved. The earliest anything could be implemented would be at least a year from
now.

Our legislature also has the authority to ban fracking, unlikely as that seems, given California’s repeated failure to impose a levy on oil and gas extraction. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, “31 states specifically levy taxes on the extraction of oil and gas….Between 10.5 percent and 74.3 percent of total state tax revenue came from severance taxes in at least six states—Alaska, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Wyoming.”

Attempts to bring California in line have so far been blocked year after year either by the legislature or by governor’s veto. (Jerry Brown, while presiding over unprecedented cuts to education and having just rejected the legislature’s proposed budget, sending it
back for more drastic cuts to human services, says he opposes such a levy as the companies already pay corporate tax and their employees pay income tax.)

The Culver City meeting was scheduled to end at 9 PM but Marshall kept the mike open for an additional hour and a half so all who
wished to speak had two minutes to do so. He noted that the Culver City meeting was not the only one so far to draw an overflow, concerned, and passionate anti-fracking crowd.

If the seven DOGGR meetings–inadequate as they seem to some–help build a movement, the voices of so many citizens may help the legislature and governor find the political will to resist industry demands and impose a moratorium if not an outright ban.

DOGGR was in Long Beach on Wednesday. Still to come: Salinas (June 27), Santa Maria (July 11), and Sacramento (July 25). Whether or not you attend a meeting, Marshall says he will read recommendations and concerns in the body of an email or by attached Word document sent to comments@conservation.ca.gov.