Steve Lopez - Aug 28th 2011
James Coley can't save all his clients. He can't slay their demons or change the world they live in. But he goes to work every day and gives it a shot.
On a recent morning in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom, his to-do list was growing fast, the day's challenges lined up bumper to bumper. The client he was supposed to meet was running late, and he needed to get over to County Jail to check on another client who had threatened to drink Clorox. Then there was a third client he was supposed to take from jail to a housing and treatment program in Pasadena. And he also had to deal with the call he'd just gotten about a fourth client who drank vodka for breakfast and was in trouble at a board-and-care facility.
I had hooked up with Coley because of something the father of Kelly Thomas said to me a few weeks ago. Ron Thomas had said that his 37-year-old son, who died violently in July after a run-in with Fullerton police, was in and out of treatment facilities after being diagnosed with schizophrenia 15 years earlier.
I hear that all the time — in and out of treatment. Thousands of people who fit that description wander the streets of Southern California. But Marsha Temple, who runs the nonprofit Integrated Recovery Network, says it doesn't have to be that way. A few years ago, Temple, an attorney who once represented hospitals, zeroed in on what she calls the "revolving door between Twin Towers and skid row."
People would land in Los Angeles County Jail because of a crime committed due in large part to a mental illness, hang there for a while, then go back on the street, get into trouble again and land back in jail or prison. There was little chance of breaking the cycle because they were pretty much on their own, with no treatment plan and no one looking after them. "It was shameful," Temple said.
With public and private funding, her agency began connecting with clients while they were still in jail, steering them into therapy, medication and housing and then assigning caseworkers like Coley to check in with them regularly. Temple's staff now handles nearly 100 clients at a time. Since she began, she said, only 20% have gone back to jail — a success rate three or four times greater than estimates for those who get no such monitoring. The cost works out to roughly $10,000 per client per year, which is far less than the cost of churning people through hospitals and the criminal justice system.Copyright © 2011, The Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times Editorial February 5, 2013
One of the standard criticisms of programs to unburden California's overcrowded network of prisons and county jails is that crime will increase as more felons are released on parole and more lower-level offenders are put on probation instead of being sent to jail. The argument goes that inmates are criminals by definition and we can expect them to commit more crimes when they are freed. And if that's the case, we can expect arrest records to show that parolees and probationers make up a huge portion of the population of people arrested for new crimes.
A study commissioned by Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck and the chiefs of three other California police departments suggests otherwise. In a report released late last month, the Council for State Governments Justice Center showed that the vast majority of people arrested in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento and Redlands during the study period — 2008 through the middle of 2011 — were on neither probation nor parole, nor had they ever been. Of those who were, most of the new crimes involved drugs, not violence. In fact, relatively few arrestees who were on parole or probation — only 7% in Los Angeles — were arrested for violent crimes.
Especially eye-opening was the very low arrest rate of former prison inmates released on "non-revocable parole," a program begun in 2010 to stop the return flow to prison of parolees who committed nonviolent, "technical" violations of parole conditions, such as failing a drug test or showing up in the wrong part of town.
The study period ended right before counties began taking more convicted felons, both in jails and in probation, under AB 109, broadly known as public safety realignment. A follow-up study is needed.
On Monday, in a separate study, the Vera Institute of Justice reported that a large proportion of county jail inmates from two study areas — Boyle Heights and South Los Angeles — preparing to reenter society have drug or mental health problems.
More research is needed, but the figures from both the Council for State Governments and the Vera Institute suggest that many people who wind up in jail or prison got into trouble at least in part because of clinical conditions, and that many of them come out with the same problems they had when they went in.
If public resources are to be spent effectively, California must cut its recidivism rate, and to do that, it must use data to slice through the posturing of those in politics and law enforcement who claim to "know," without facts or figures, what people, policies or laws to blame for crime. If drug and mental health problems play a large role in landing people behind bars, it stands to reason that focusing more on diagnosis and treatment could save taxpayers money, reduce the criminal burden on neighborhoods and, by the way, address some of the misery and hopelessness of those caught in the revolving jailhouse door.
The Economist - Apr 18th 2011
JEN KWONG NG was released in June after serving 20 years in a prison in upstate New York. Desperate for work, he reconnected with the old "friends" who had got him into trouble in the first place. He had just met them in the park when his phone rang. It was Harlem's Exodus Transitional Community offering him an internship. "I told my boyz", remembers Mr Ng, "I gotta go. I gotta go to work."Copyright © The Economist Newspaper Limited 2011. All rights reserved.
“The tragedy of the County's predicament is that the arrival of new state parolees ought to be an opportunity to focus on the reentry of these ex-prisoners into society. It should fall to churches, mosques and synagogues, to nonprofit organizations, to schools, but above all to county government to ensure that those leaving institutions and reentering their neighborhoods do so in a way that maximizes their chance to become productive and law-abiding citizens.
Even the parolees expected to come to Los Angeles County — those whose crimes were nonviolent, non-sexual and relatively low-level — are more likely than the state's population at large to be sick, addicted, mentally ill, poorly educated and unemployable. Given that California's state prison system has disinvested in prisoner care and rehabilitation, the parolees are unlikely to come home any better prepared to lead productive lives than when they went in. Indeed, the failure of the state's parole efforts is one of the best arguments for turning this responsibility over to local governments, which at least have a fighting chance.”
LA Times story leads to housing for homeless family with help from the Integrated Recovery Network and City and County authorities.
A 97 year old woman and her two sons, had been living in a Chevy Suburban on the street in Venice. We helped them stay at a retirement home in Van Nuys.
> Read the LA Times initial story 10.16.09
> Read the LA Times followup story 10.20.09
> Watch the ABC TV local video
> Benefit event at the Laugh Factory 11.24.09
- LA Times article
- Laugh Factory benefit event page