L.A. Moves To Disassemble Part Of ‘School-To-Prison Pipeline’

As the nation watches racially heated events in Ferguson, Missouri unfold, the city of Los Angeles is going about disassembling what critics have called its “schools-to-prison” pipeline, ending policies that turned school issues into police issues. But the move is also a consequence of reduced juvenile court capacity, according to an official quoted in a New York Times article.
According to the NYT: “Michael Nash, the presiding judge of the Los Angeles Juvenile Courts, who was involved in creating the new policies, said that the juvenile justice system was overtaxed, and that the changes would ensure that the courts were dealing only with youngsters who ‘really pose the greatest risk to the community.'”
The NYT also reported that “… students 14 years old and under received more than 45 percent of the district’s 1,360 citations in 2013, according to the [Labor/Community] Strategy Center [a civil rights group] African-American students, who account for about 10 percent of the total population, received 39 percent of “disturbing the peace” citations, typically given for fights.” At one time, police in the program were issuing arrest citations for showing up late to school, a practice terminated in 2012.

L.A. Supervisors Face Juvenile Justice Issue

A juvenile policy attorney and former public defender has an opinion piece making the rounds that makes a great argument for increasing funding to the Los Angeles juvenile justice system, but for once the issue is up to county officials instead of the wise ones in Sacramento. Carol Chodroff explains how the current attorney appointment scheme relies on a flat-fee contract that seems nearly designed for poor outcomes.
In her piece, which has appeared in both the Huffington Post and CityWatch, she reports that “… Los Angeles has one of the largest juvenile justice systems in the world, processing approximately 20,000 youths annually. About 11,000 of these youths are ineligible for representation by the public defender because of a conflict of interest. They are represented instead by appointed panel attorneys who receive a flat fee of approximately $350 for the life of a case, regardless of its complexity.
The bad news from this is that “… this perverse compensative scheme penalizes panel attorneys for doing the work required to zealously represent youthful clients. The resulting arbitrary and disparate treatment of children in the Los Angeles juvenile delinquency system is destructive, expensive, and unconstitutional.” But she also notes  that the good news is “… next week, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors will hear an important motion introduced by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas to examine and recommend improvements to the delinquency representation system. The Board of Supervisors should pass this critical motion.”
You can read her argument in support of the county motion, via CityWatch, here.

Presiding Juvenile Court Judge who blasted system is calling it quits

Los Angeles is losing one of its more respected judges. And while Superior Court Judge Michael Nash, presiding judge of the county’s sprawling juvenile court system, is doing the old “new opportunities” dance, a column from the L.A. Times might offer insight into his frustrations amid budget cuts and after 29 years on the court.

Judge Michael Nash (photo from California Courts, www.courts.ca.gov)

Judge Michael Nash (photo from California Courts, www.courts.ca.gov)

The judge told the Metropolitan News that he has not decided if he will retire soon or serve out his term, which tuns through 2014. The MetNews also reported that Deputy District Attorney Dayan Mathai Thursday became the first candidate to take out papers to run for Nash’s seat. You can find that story (and if you’re interested in court election news, go ahead and bookmark it) here.

Judge Nash’s comments were a bit more reflective, and downright dismal, in Jim Newton’s L.A. Times column in June, 2013: “I feel as crappy about things as I have in a long time,” he says in the column. “It’s just very difficult to do the job in a meaningful way.” Newton explains that “… the source of Nash’s discontent is the swelling caseload that his judges are being asked to carry — a burden that reduces the amount of time they have to focus on the needs of the children whose futures they decide. As of today, he said, each of the court’s 20 full-time judges handles roughly 1,350 cases at any given time, well above the recommended maximum. Often, matters of grave consequence must be heard and decided in minutes, even when they call for careful deliberation.”
And (spoiler alert!) the Newton column ends with this: “… near the end of our conversation the other day, I asked whether he saw anything on the horizon that would make the work of his court easier and improve the lives of the children in its care. His answer: ‘No.'”
Read the telling column here.