Monthly Archives: February 2016

Where the Innocent Plead Guilty

Judge Rakoff of the Southern District of New York continues his lonely judicial crusade against over-charging and the plea bargaining system as we know it. A recent  The Crime Report article, “A Draconian System Where the Innocent Plead Guilty,” details some of the issues:

“[Judge Rakoff]  called the plea bargaining process a “system of totally secret justice” where prosecutors, hold all the cards and are able to get a vast majority of defendants to plead guilty to charges when faced with extremely long sentences — imposed through sentencing guidelines or mandatory minimums.

Julie Seaman, a professor at the Emory University School of Law and Board President of the Georgia Innocence Project, said it’s now a system where “it’s completely rational for an innocent person to plead guilty,” because there is so much risk involved in going to trial.”

Driving Around West Baltimore

Some insightful and thought-provoking comments about the need for structural reform in the Baltimore Police Dept. from David Simon, a former crime reporter for the Baltimore Sun, writer of “The Wire,” and a lifelong resident of Baltimore: The New Yorker Radio Hour. Amongst other observations Simon points to the ways in which emphasizing policing of low level offenses can have dramatically negative consequences for the perception of police in marginal communities.

District Attorney’s Opposition to Juvenile Justice Reform

The California District Attorney’s Association continued their opposition to Governor Brown’s common-sense attempts to reform the juvenile justice system, particularly by taking unfettered discretion to charge juveniles as adults away from the DA, and adding a badly-needed ,ayer of judicial oversight to this most critical decision in the juvenile system:

sfgate article

More Mental Health Care Services

From the Young Minds Advocacy Project:

A critical intensive mental health service will soon be available to foster youth in California! Therapeutic Foster Care (TFC) is a specialized community-based treatment designed for children with significant mental health needs who cannot be cared for in their own homes. TFC offers intensive treatment in a family setting using specially trained foster parents as an alternative to more restrictive out-of-home placements such as mental institutions and group homes.

TFC is part of an array of intensive mental health services known as “Katie A. services,” named after the 2002 class action lawsuit (Katie A. v Bonta) that led to their development in California. The full service array includes TFC, Intensive Care Coordination (ICC), and Intensive Home Based Services (IHBS). Together, these services are designed to help youth, with more intensive mental health needs, succeed in their own homes and communities and avoid unnecessary hospitalizations or residential placements in facilities far away from their families.

Until recently, only ICC and IHBS were available as part of the Katie A. service array. However, the Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) just announced that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) approved a State Plan Amendment (SPA) that would allow California to implement much-needed therapeutic foster care services through the Medi-Cal program. This decision opens the door to crucial mental health treatments and completes the full trio of Katie A. services initially contemplated over ten years ago!

What is Therapeutic Foster Care (TFC)?

Delivers intensive, individualized mental healthcare services in a supportive family setting.
Utilizes specially trained foster parents working under intensive oversight, to provide a nurturing and therapeutic environment that encourages a youth’s safety and wellbeing.
Generally, only one or two youth reside in a Therapeutic Foster Home to allow for greater care and oversight.
Designed to enable the young person to successfully transition out of TFC and return to their own homes.
Help us spread the word about TFC and Katie A. services!

Therapeutic Foster Care and the other Katie A. services give youth with serious mental health needs the invaluable opportunity to live healthy and fulfilling lives—without the restrictive and damaging effects of institutionalization.

The Katie A. lawsuit envisioned mental health treatment based on a youth’s own needs and strengths, deployed in a nurturing and collaborative environment. When this goal is fully realized, we anticipate that as many as 35,000 youth in California could receive Katie A. services, such as TFC, in their own homes and communities.

Blackstone on Apple v. FBI

In the debate over Apple’s refusal to comply with a court order to unlock the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone, I came across this:

“You can rationalize it, these are known bad people, this is a known domestic terrorism case and it’s one iPhone,” said Oren Falkowitz, chief executive of security firm Area 1 Security and a former director of technology and data science programs at U.S. Cyber Command. “But it has implications for all technologies across the globe. We have to be doing more to strengthen the security of the Internet … or we’ll suffer consequences, … greater than whatever information might be on this one phone.”LA Times

Which reminded me of Blackstone’s formula, quoted with approval by Benjamin Franklin in the course of creating our own constitution, that it is better to let 10 guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer. Its a formula whose meaning seems largely to have been lost in the last few decades – witness the current tide of exonerations washing over the criminal justice world – but whose truth suddenly seems evident here.


The quality of resilience, the ability to deal effectively with adversity, has been the subject of a good deal of study in the world of developmental psychology. A very accessible  survey article in  The New Yorker  notes some recent work on how that quality can be learned:

“In research at Columbia, the neuroscientist Kevin Ochsner has shown that teaching people to think of stimuli in different ways—to reframe them in positive terms when the initial response is negative, or in a less emotional way when the initial response is emotionally “hot”—changes how they experience and react to the stimulus. You can train people to better regulate their emotions, and the training seems to have lasting effects.”

Of course, resiliency can also be lost:

“We can become less resilient, or less likely to be resilient,” Bonanno says. “We can create or exaggerate stressors very easily in our own minds. That’s the danger of the human condition.”

The take-away: “frame adversity as a challenge, and you become more flexible and able to deal with it, move on, learn from it, and grow. Focus on it, frame it as a threat, and a potentially traumatic event becomes an enduring problem; you become more inflexible, and more likely to be negatively affected.”



Over-criminalization in the foster care system

A recent article on the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange website (, referencing Denise Herz’s 2015 study on crossover youth – kids in the dependency system who transition into the delinquency system – has some specific case histories to show how the over criminalization of adolescent behavior in foster care and group homes leads to high percentages of foster youth “crossing over,” and the problems that result.

More on prosecutorial accountability

Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, in a USA Today editorial, joins in the call for personal accountability in cases of prosecutorial misconduct:

“If an officer or prosecutor intentionally does something wrong, that person should be held accountable. No responsible law enforcement official wants to serve with those who do not abide by the law, but the current disciplinary system is not doing enough.”

And the Facts are….

From the same source, the “facts” Sen. Lee refers to:

“Holly Harris, executive director of the U.S. Justice Action Network, said the mandatory minimum sentences now in effect have made it harder for people to turn away from crime.

“There’s no data that shows lengthy prison sentences are helpful to the cause of being able to return these people to society,” she said. “The longer you’re isolated from society, the more difficult it becomes to successfully re-enter society.”

From 2003 to 2013, Harris said, the 10 states that significantly decreased their prison populations saw a 13 percent drop in crime. The 10 states that significantly increased their prison populations only had an 8 percent drop in crime.”