Professor of social welfare Laura Abrams was featured in a Social Work Today article about the role of social work in the U.S. juvenile justice system. Over the last half-century, the U.S. has favored a system of punishment that made it easier for juveniles to be treated as adults. But Abrams sees a new era unfolding with a wave of 21st century reforms that prioritize the protection of children’s rights and support for youth and families. “Social workers should care about juvenile justice reform because we need to restore our rightful place with youth who have been in contact with the law,” she said. She encouraged social workers to stay informed about the issues, become aware of local initiatives and connect with advocacy groups to advance the cause of juvenile justice reform. “We can’t consider [reform] done, even though a lot of progress has been made,” Abrams said.
Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Jorja Leap was featured in a New York Times article about the restrictive parole system that makes it difficult for individuals with a history of gang involvement to ever clear their names. Kerry Lathan, who was shot in the back while picking up a T-shirt from Nipsey Hussle’s store the day the rap artist was killed, was later arrested for violating parole by associating with a known gang member. Hailed as a community icon who had turned his life around and worked with police to reduce gang violence, Hussle was still listed on CalGang, the California database of gang members. Leap said, “If someone like Nipsey Hussle is viewed as always a gang member, what is happening to the average guy who has a low-level job, who’s trying to make it, and that’s his past?” Leap concluded, “No one ever makes it off that list. No one.”
UCLA Luskin’s Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy and associate faculty director of the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies, and Michael A. Stoll, professor of public policy and urban planning, released a report on March 22, 2019, that reviewed 16 years of misdemeanor data from the Los Angeles Police Department and the City Attorney’s Office. “Trends in Misdemeanor Arrests in Los Angeles: 2001-2017” highlights that misdemeanor arrests rose sharply — from 88,511 arrests in 2001 to 112,570 in 2008, which is the highest number recorded — but then dropped to 60,063 in 2017, a 47 percent decrease. This reflects a statewide trend. The rates fell dramatically for juveniles, but some other demographic groups, including black females, saw increases. The researchers said this work is critical because, unlike felonies, misdemeanors are understudied, and they account for a much higher volume of arrests, particularly among people of color. “Interaction with police is the single-most –common way people interact with the government, and yet we neglect this level of interaction at our peril,” UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura said during a release event at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. How people interact with the criminal justice system could impact their views and participation in many societal functions. UCLA was one of seven sites selected by the nationwide Research Network on Misdemeanor Justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York to use the collective data to study trends in the enforcement of lower-level offenses, which could inform policy discussions and result in reforms. Yiwen Kuai, a doctoral student in urban planning, also co-authored the report.
Jorja Leap, adjunct professor of social welfare, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the legal dispute between Los Angeles County and Sheriff Alex Villanueva over the new sheriff’s reinstatement of Deputy Caren Carl Mandoyan. Mandoyan was fired by former Sheriff Jim McDonnell in 2016 over allegations of domestic abuse, but was recently rehired by Villanueva, who argued that the termination was unfair. The county identified the reinstatement as unlawful and has instructed Mandoyan to return his badge and gun, but Mandoyan has refused to comply. The legal conflict “threatens what is normally a more collaborative relationship between officials,” Leap said. “This is not where the energy should be expended,” she added, noting that Villanueva should “admit his mistake and move forward.” Leap also spoke to KNX1070 radio, commenting that the case is seen as a battle of wills but should focus on whether an individual is fit for employment.
By Stan Paul
Between 2012 and 2016 more than $19 billion in bail was levied on individuals arrested for felonies and misdemeanors by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), according to a new study conducted by the Million Dollar Hoods Research team based at UCLA. Of this, $17.5 million in cash went to the court and more than $193 million in nonrefundable bail bond deposits were pocketed by bail bond agents.
The report, “The Price for Freedom: Bail in the City of L.A.,” is the work of Kelly Lytle Hernandez, interim director of UCLA’s Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies, and two UCLA graduate students: Isaac Bryan, a master of public policy student at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, and Terry Allen, an education Ph.D. candidate.
In California, those who are arrested for crimes, in most cases, have the right to freedom prior to trial if they can post bail determined by the court. Money bail is the mechanism for this freedom, which is also intended to ensure that the accused will appear for all court pretrial and trial proceedings.
Of the total of bail assessed — nearly $4 billion for each of the years in the study — approximately 70 percent was unpaid, meaning that nearly a quarter of a million people remained in custody before arraignment and trial. This percentage, which translates to more than $13.5 billion that went unpaid, also represents overwhelmingly those unable to pay — the poor. According to the study, disproportionately bearing the burden of the actual dollars paid for bail bonds were women, “namely black women and Latinas, representing mothers, grandmothers, aunts, friends and wives of the accused,” the researchers said in the report.
“This is an astounding toll that Los Angeles residents — not yet convicted of any crime — are charged for their freedom,” said Hernandez, also an associate professor of history at UCLA and one of the nation’s leading historians on race, policing, immigration and incarceration. “It’s no wonder that so many Californians remain imprisoned before trial simply because they cannot afford bail. This is an extraordinary amount of wealth taken primarily from low-income, communities of color.”
Of almost $200 million paid for bail bonds, Latinos represented $92.1 million, African Americans $40.7 million, and whites $37.9 million, the study’s authors reported. Among communities studied, four out of the top five were located in South Central Los Angeles and the greatest amounts of bail paid were in city council districts with the highest unemployment, with homeless individuals making up nearly $4 billion of the money bail levied in the areas studied.
The information, obtained through public records act requests fulfilled by the LAPD in March of 2017, was broken down by City Council districts “so elected officials can see how much their constituents are paying to a private industry that doesn’t generate outcomes,” Hernandez said.
Bryan, who served as lead author of the report, is a second-year MPP student at UCLA Luskin.
“I think the bail report will revive a conversation on the economic sustainability of such a wide net in pretrial incarceration, the morality of such a punitive system reaction to poverty, and the disparate racial impacts associated with the current money bail system,” he said. “I am hoping it is the final push that is needed to spur policymakers toward a more equitable pretrial system.” Bryan is also serving as a David Bohnett Fellow in Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Office of Reentry, established in 2015.
Hernandez said that other states have found other non-monetary ways to ensure that the accused will return to court. Six states currently use an algorithm to help determine risk to public safety and risk of flight, Bryan said. New Jersey, for example, uses such a risk assessment tool. Prosecutors are still able to disagree with the algorithm, which may require another hearing before a judge.
According to Hernandez, the alternatives have “functioned well, if not better than money bail.”
But, for L.A., most people are not able to pay money bail, according to the researchers. For those who pay bail bond agents, that money — typically about 10 percent of the bail amount levied — is never returned and additional fees apply, the research team reported. “Among them, many individuals as well as their families and communities are simply too poor to pay the price of freedom,” they conclude.
The report may be accessed online.
By Aaron Julian
Determination and the call to purposeful action were primary themes at UCLA Luskin during “Equitable Policymaking Under a Trump Administration,” which featured local leaders whose work presses for the rights of minority and underrepresented groups in the greater Los Angeles community and beyond.
“The work we are doing now is more important than ever before. If there is a bright light [of the Trump election], it is that a lot of people have been mobilized to do something,” said panelist Fred Ali, president and CEO of the Weingart Foundation.
Furthering Ali’s point, Romel Pascual, executive director of CicLAvia, shared the message imparted to his staff the day after the election of President Trump. “Our work is so much more important than ever before. Because what we do is we bring people together,” he said.
Sonja Diaz MPP ’10, founding director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, was the moderator of the May 11, 2017, event and discussion. The Equitable Policy Symposium was hosted by Policy Professionals for Diversity and Equity, co-chaired by Emma K. Watson and Jessica Noel, second-year students in the Master of Public Policy program.
Diaz directed the conversation with questions about how to ensure that the rights of minority communities are protected and how each panelist’s work has changed in the wake of the presidential election. A sense of community, paired with organized mass mobilization, was the panelists’ unanimous response.
Funmilola Fagbamila, activist-in-residence for the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin and arts and culture director for Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, pressed that the work of an activist has not changed, instead it has become more amplified. Fagbamila also noted that the same protesting and organizational techniques employed by Black Lives Matter were being used nationwide in resistance to the election’s outcome.
“Be willing to have conversations with folks in your own communities who don’t get it,” emphasized Fagbamila. “We need numbers, and in order to get numbers … we have to be willing to be in communication with each other.”
Immigration reform was a pillar of Trump’s presidential campaign, and Los Angeles has been a battleground site in the wake of executive actions by the president.
Jordan Cunnings, an Equal Justice Works fellow for the Public Counsel’s Immigrant’s Rights Project, gave her perspective on the local reaction, including spontaneous protests. “Everyone came… It was very powerful to see everyone coalesce,” Cunnings said about protests at LAX that followed the first of the Trump administration’s immigration bans. The communal effort and work of countless activists has made a difference, she said.
The LGBTQ community has also been impacted, said Lorri L. Jean, CEO of the Los Angeles LGBT Center. She has led the Los Angeles LGBT Center through an era of “unprecedented growth,” which has significantly increased the center’s ability to serve the Los Angeles community.
Jean noted an evolving strategy since the election. “Marching is great, gathering is great… but that is not enough,” she said. While resisting legislation and initiatives proposed by the Trump administration, the center has also been active in allying with groups such as labor to push for positive change.
Panelists said positive change can have different meanings, ranging from effective reform to making communities safer to spreading awareness of socioeconomic disparities between ethnic and social groups in areas such as imprisonment and poverty.
“Resources should go into places that influence people into coming together and not just straight to putting a cop on the street,” Pascual insisted. More policing does not necessarily build community or safety, he said.
Torie Osborn, principal deputy for policy and strategy for Supervisor Sheila Kuehl of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, noted that the Affordable Care Act had added coverage for the mentally ill and people with drug addictions. A repeal of the ACA, and the aid that came with it, would negatively impact many people with the greatest need, she said, including the homeless and those recently released from prisons.
“We have got to look at the unlikely allies who we do not think will be under our tent,” Pascual said about the need to be resourceful. “The takeaway I have gotten from my experiences is to build a big tent.”
During a Q&A that followed the panel discussion, topics included weighing the relationship between safer communities and gentrification, and the current state of the two-party political system in the United States.