Tag Archive for San Diego

Advance Praise for Born, Not Raised: Voices from Juvenile Hall

born-book-coverWe are very pleased to see the reception our newest book is getting, even with the release ten days away!

There have been a few reviews and articles posted recently that can give you a good perspective on the work.

Library Journal (review only available in the print edition, this link goes to the BArnes and Noble website where it is reporduced):

More policy-oriented than academic in tone, this book is recommended for specialized juvenile justice collections and libraries holding the other two volumes in the series. Though government austerity is in vogue, this book is a powerful reminder of the social costs of neglecting the specific needs of at-risk youth.—Antoinette Brinkman, Evansville, IN

EFEAmerica, an online publication with a Hispanic focus, takes a look at the book.

‘We want to make the public more aware of how desperate these young people are for a little love and affection, and the fact that they don’t want to be involved in drugs – but more and more U.S. youngsters lack education and suffer the effects of being brought up by single fathers or mothers with no time for them because they’re working two jobs,’ Lankford said.

For the author, the factors most likely to land these young people in the juvenile detention system are their broken family relations, not their ethnicity or immigration problems.

San Diego City Beat’s Dave Maass talks about the book in the context of Susan and Polly Lankford’s recent visit to the McAllister Institute, a drug treatment center in El Cajon. One of the main points that he focuses on is the opacity of the justice system in California:

That may be the most important part of the text; the San Diego County Probation Department doesn’t allow media or public access to its facilities except for once-a-year, highly controlled open houses. The department cites confidentiality issues, but Susan believes opacity only worsens the problem.

‘I think [confidentiality] is the biggest joke around, because all of these kids know each other, they learn everything bad that they possibly can from one another before they’re released and they come back in with even more criminal behavior,’ Susan says. ‘That’s one of the things I am upset with, because I don’t think accountability happens with confidentiality.’

In the blogging world we are happy to note that Matthew T. Mangino- former district attorney of Lawrence County, Pennsylvania and current member of the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole – decided to share some thoughts about the book. You might be familiar with his work in the  Washington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Harrisburg Patriot News, Pennsylvania Law Weekly, CNN, MSNBC, FoxNews, Court TV and National Public Radio.)

Lankford concludes that, ‘[I]nstitutions like juvenile hall are not a good substitute for a family.’  Psychiatrist Diane Campbell said, ‘The youth in the hall don’t need miracle workers; they simply need some who is ‘just good enough.’

Lankford makes it clear that ‘good enough’ consists of a reliable, loving and nurturing figure that will help mold a child.  She uses her skills as a writer and photographer to make sure her readers understand the plight of troubled young people and how to turn ‘at-risk’ youths into ‘at-promise’ youths.

As we approach publication it is heartwarming to see the interest in this vital topic. As with our prior works we hope that Born, Not Raised will not only make people think, but will also spur them to action. The statistics support a more rehabilitative approach, but zero tolerance laws and for profit prisons weild considerable finanacial might. We hope that after reading our book you will find yourself motivated to act against that might and for substantive positive change in the way we deal with criminal justice.

The Stand Down in San Diego: Three Days on “60 Minutes”

Homeless Man with Two Flags in NYCSan Diego’s yearly Stand Down event just passed recently, hosted by one of the oldest and most well-known programs to help homeless veterans. In case you’re not familiar with it, The Veterans Village of San Diego website describes the program as follows:

In times of war, exhausted combat units requiring time to rest and recover were removed from the battlefields to a place of relative security and safety. Today, Stand Down refers to a community-based intervention program designed to help the nation’s estimated 200,000 homeless veterans ‘combat’ life on the streets.

VVSD organized the nation’s first Stand Down in 1988. Since then, the program has been widely replicated nationwide. Today, more than 200 Stand Downs take place across the country every year. ‘The program has become recognized as the most valuable outreach tool to help homeless veterans in the nation today,’ according to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.

This video report from The New York Times YouTube Channel provides an inside view of the 2009 Stand Down. Among other things, it looks at the growing and disturbing new demographic, homeless veteran women:

A stand down provides a number of basic services that are lacking in life on the streets: showers, haircuts, medical and dental attention, benefits assistance, counseling, 12-step meetings, and more. Some of these things, like the simple old-fashioned shower, we take for granted, yet having them makes all the difference in the world for those who lack them. How can you find a job and pull yourself up if you cannot even get clean enough for an interview?

While we cannot embed it in this post, the full 60 Minutes report is available online. You can watch it here.

When looking at social programs like this, we need to remember that many of these people simply need a hand up, not a handout. The investment in our community returns manyfold in both tangible and intangible ways. This is why we always talk about our stance on this subject being a bipartisan win-win scenario. From the conservative perspective, rehabilitating the homeless back into society makes sound financial sense — as it will reduce the overall cost to the system over the long term.

From the liberal perspective, the socially conscious angle is the one that is of most importance. The vital thing is to note that despite the differences in how they reach that conclusion, both sides of the political equation should find it easy to see that it is, indeed, more expensive to do nothing!

Source: “WATCH: Can Three Days Make A Difference For Homeless Veterans?,” The Huffington Post, 10/17/10
Source: “Homeless Vets: Does Anyone Care?,” CBS News, 10/17/10
Image by NYCUrbanscape, used under its Creative Commons license.

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Uptown San Diego Considering Homeless Survey

HomelessYesterday, we wrote about a survey of the homeless being conducted in Downtown San Diego. The Downtown Partnership and the Common Ground have teamed up to register the homeless in order to better identify and service their needs.

Meanwhile, Uptown, Todd Gloria, the chair of the City Council’s Land Use and Housing subcommittee, which studies homelessness, has his eye on the project. Here are some of the comments of Gloria’s, who also serves as the District 3 Councilmember, as reported by Christy Scannell of the San Diego News Room:

Gloria said he will be monitoring Registry Week as a possible solution for addressing homelessness in Uptown neighborhoods.

As downtown develops, the homeless are driven to Uptown and Balboa Park,’ he said. ‘As we find models that work in downtown I want to do what I can to bring those models [to Uptown] because we are the natural inheritors of those problems.’

That seems very forward thinking. Being aware of these sorts of factors is vital to finding solutions to them. The enthusiasm seems to wane though when it comes to the question of funding — should it be decided that a similar survey is required Uptown. Scannell reports:

When asked if he thought the Hillcrest Business Association, like Downtown Partnership, would fund a Registry Week for Uptown, its executive director Benjamin Nicholls was quick to say no.

‘It’s the role of business associations to help the businesses grow and that’s what we’re doing in Hillcrest,’ he said. ‘I don’t think it’s the role of business associations to become social service providers.’

Of course, this still comes down to a matter of implementation once the data is collected. Much like a dusty book in the back shelf of a library, if unseen, the information is useless. Proper coordination with treatment services and other resources is absolutely vital for success. We hope that as the possibility of a survey Uptown is considered, the spectrum of social services needed to effectively help those on the streets is also considered.

Source: “Homeless survey could become Uptown model,” San Diego News Room, 09/20/10
Image copyright Susan Madden Lankford, from the book “downTown USA: A Personal Journey with the Homeless.” Used with permission.

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New Homeless Census in Downtown San Diego

HomelessEarly morning last Monday had seen faces that you wouldn’t normally see at that hour fan out through downtown San Diego, as the volunteers had attempted to take a census of the society’s disenfranchised. The effort is part of a national initiative to get better data about the homeless population so that help can be given to those most in need. The goal is to reduce the number of homeless on the streets by 100,000 between now and the middle of 2013.

Steve Schmidt brings us a moment from that morning in his latest post on Sign On San Diego:

Many of the homeless didn’t mind being awakened for the questionnaire, which ranged from their level of education to whether they have a prison record.

‘I think more people like to be heard, and (the homeless) don’t get a lot of opportunities to be heard,’ said Mitchell Clark, a clinician and case worker with Heritage Clinic in San Diego.

That makes perfect sense. When was the last time that you’ve engaged a homeless person in conversation? The social urge is a vital one for people, especially when it is frustrated by the barriers of perception. Schmidt writes,

A few people found the questions overly intrusive. One man crawled out of his tent, pointed to an ailing woman he was with and yelled, ‘This survey you’re taking, what good is it going to do her?’

Long-range gains are often outside of the expectations of the homeless. The immediacy of life on the streets takes precedence. Fortunately, the census takers had this in mind and showed up prepared:

Others became more willing to talk when they learned they would each get a $5 gift certificate for Jack in the Box if they participated.

[Robin] Munro [an attorney and one of the organizers of the census] said the predawn hours are considered the best time to get an accurate read of a transient population. She and the project’s other coordinators plan to compile their registry by the end of the week.

As with all issues, accurate information is key to finding a solution. Campaigns like this one have already occurred in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, and New York. Of course, information is only worthwhile if you act upon it. Experts, including the National Alliance to End Homelessness and the federal Interagency on Homelessness, point this out as well. Several studies put forth by these groups show that registries are effective when they work together with the programs that dispense housing, substance abuse treatment, mental health services, and other programs designed to help these people effect a return to society.

Source: “Volunteers start count of city’s homeless,” Sign On San Diego, 09/20/10
Image copyright Susan Madden Lankford, from the book “downTown USA: A Personal Journey with the Homeless.” Used with permission.

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Teenage Prostitution: Not As Rare As You Think

PimpsThere are many paths taken by those on the streets. For an unfortunate number of pople, one of those paths is prostitution, and they get started at an earlier age than some of us would think.

In addition, there is another sad aspect to this situation, the human trafficking angle. While some of those turning tricks on the street came to that due to homelessness — the stereotypical runaway comes readily to mind — others are kidnapped from their homes and press-ganged into service.

Let’s take a look into that world for a moment, by looking at this video produced by the Press-Telegram of Long Beach, CA:

Sad and disturbing, like so many examples of the societal breakdown. Twelve years old? I don’t know about you, but I was shocked by that. In addition, I found the comparison of the pimp/prostitute relationship to the classic abusive household’s dynamic to be most interesting.

The problem is not going away, nor are any of its aspects. Only recently, three men were sent to jail for sexual exploitation of a child and sex trafficking of children right here in San Diego, as reported on San Diego 6:

According to evidence presented at trial, they picked up the 14-year-old at a restaurant on El Cajon Boulevard in San Diego and drove her to Oceanside, where she was forced to pose for explicit photographs so ‘johns’ could be solicited to engage in commercial sex acts with the child.

The teen was able to escape from the motel room and run to a nearby convenience store to call 911.

Many, many more do not escape. Whether it’s a victim of trafficking or simply someone trying to get off the street, the plight of these poor girls is one that is most certainly worthy of examination. So many of the social ills we examine are intertwined. Violence, homelessness, poor education, people preying on other people, the broken prison system, etc., all demonstrate the interconnected nature of societal problems.

Source: “Man Sentenced for Abducting Teen in Prostitution Scheme,” San Diego 6, 09/13/10
Source: “Human trafficking’s misery hits home,” Press- Telegram, Long Beach, CA, 09/04/10
Image by CommandZed, used under its Creative Commons license.

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Get My School Bucks: An Innovative Web Effort Supporting Education

Get My School Bucks

Did you know that you can help a struggling school simply by shopping? Chad and Melinda Reist of San Diego have created a way for you to do just that, on a website called GetMySchoolBucks.com.

Back in April, KFMB TV Channel 8 ran a story about their efforts, which explains how it all works:

‘We don’t want our younger ones to not have the education they should have,’ Melinda said.

Their solution: a web site that offers discounted gift certificates. Any company interested offers its services on getmyschoolbucks.com at 20 percent off, and any customer interested purchases it at five percent off. The web site takes its cut and the rest goes back to the schools.

‘Essentially it’s money you are already going to spend, so before you head out to dinner with the family, might as well save five percent and give five percent to the schools,’ Chad said.

Sounds like the Reists are on to something. Everybody likes to save money, particularly when the economy is such a mess, so offering coupons is a great way to get people to participate. Adding in the socially conscious element that so many Internet-based efforts are exhibiting these days should really give it legs.

The Reists are not the only parents concerned for their children’s educational future, especially in San Diego, where the state of the school board is continually chaotic. As we’ve stated on numerous occassions, many of the social ills we face are directly related to poor education. There is a plethora of studies linking it to both crime and homelessness, and, while not the sole cause of either, it is still cause for grave concern.

Source: “San Diego couple’s web business to help schools,” KFMD TV Channel 8, 04/01/10
Image of GetMySchoolBucks logo, used under Fair Use: Reporting.

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San Diego’s School Board: A Long and Winding Road to Change

Old schoolSo many of our societal ills can be traced back to failures in the American educational system. Thus it is vitally important that we take an interest in that system and how it’s functioning.

In San Diego, one of the obvious problems is the continuing changes in the school superintendent’s office. The electoral process for the school board in San Diego is both archaic and unusual, and, in addition, it is unlike any other electoral process in the city.

Emily Alpert, a blogger for Voices of San Diego, recently presented an in-depth analysis of that odd system as well as the critiques it has drawn from both sides of the political aisle. Here is a small sample:

Here is how the unusual system works: Candidates like Rosen and his opponents have to survive two elections. In the June primary, they battle in one of five smaller subdistricts. The top two candidates then advance to the November election, where the entire school district votes.

The system might seem strange: No other K-12 school district in San Diego County is elected this way. It is a hybrid of district elections — in which voters in a small slice of a city or school district elect their own representative — and at-large elections in which the whole area votes.

But it was actually the same way that San Diego used to elect its City Council. Even though the city has no power over the school district, schools’ election rules have been laid out in the city charter since 1939.

Voters scrapped that system for City Council 22 years ago, replacing it with district-only elections to ensure that minorities had a better shot at being heard.

But the system stayed the same for the school board — and attracts the same criticisms.

Alpert then goes into a detailed examination of views on all sides of the equation. Here are a few that  she shares in her article:

San Diegans 4 Great Schools, a group that includes philanthropists, business leaders and parents, argues that the existing school board system is outdated and blames it for the revolving door of superintendents that San Diego Unified has suffered in recent years.

Organizer Scott Himelstein says a small school board with five members can swing too easily in a single election, changing the whole direction of the school district in a snap. His group has quietly discussed the idea of adding four new, appointed members to the board.

This would bring it more in line with the rest of the state:

Most school boards in California have five members, but almost all of the large school districts elsewhere in the country have larger boards with seven or nine trustees.

Anyone interested in social issues should take a look at Alpert’s article (link below under “Sources”). Most social ills seem to be rooted in childhood, and education is a vastly important part of that. Issues at that level all too often blossom later in life into homlessness, criminal activity, and substance abuse. As a result, examination of the system and exploration of the methods that can improve it are vital.

Source: “The Unusual Road to the San Diego School Board,” Voice of San Diego, 09/06/10
Image by Adam Pieniazek, used under its Creative Commons license.

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Veterans Make Up 35% of the San Diego Homeless

Homeless and coldAs you walk through the streets of San Diego, or any other American city, you will see the homeless. People living rough in the urban landscape. Each one is somebody’s brother, mother, son, cousin, or spouse. In addition, many of them had fought for our country.

Dylan Mann, a contributor to Voice of San Diego, says it well:

You see them in the medians at intersections and at the bottom of freeway off-ramps. Suntanned and weary in camouflage pants, they hold magic-markered signs announcing: ‘HOMELESS VET — ANYTHING HELPS — GOD BLESS.’ And you feel empathy for them, don’t you? No matter what you think of our nation’s military campaigns, it’s undeniable that here before you is a person that once served our country, but now he sleeps outside and isn’t sure when he’ll eat next.

Because of good weather and a high cost of living, San Diego has a lot of homeless people. There are 8,500 homeless people [PDF] in the county and 35 percent of them (3,000) are veterans. The relatively high proportion of veterans among San Diego’s homeless is probably due to our proximity to military bases.

Among the homeless nationwide, veterans comprise 20-25%. Now, it is no secret that the strain of combat can create a wide variety of mental ailments. From “shell shock,” to “battle fatigue,” to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) — the name has changed repeatedly while the ailment itself has remained a constant backbeat to our international conflicts. Is this the prime cause behind the number of veterans on the streets? Maybe not. Mann continues:

But, according to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, only a third of homeless veterans were ever stationed in a combat zone. So, why are the other two-thirds on the streets? Unfortunately, nobody knows for sure.

While there may not be certainty about the cause, there are at least some possibilities:

The Rosenheck-Fontana study of Vietnam veterans shows various correlations, but its takeaways are not entirely clear. The study’s major finding was that if upon returning to civilian life, veterans had low levels of social support, non-PTSD psychological disorders, substance abuse, or were unmarried, they were significantly more likely than their peers to be homeless.

The factors should look familiar if you have been following our work. They are circumstances that crop up repeatedly in our examination of homelessness and other social justice issues. Likewise, Mann cites additional factors that are, again, familiar to us from our prior research:

Additionally, it identified several factors that predisposed soldiers to homelessness. If vets had been foster children or had significant childhood trauma (e.g. physical, sexual, etc.) before entering the military, they were more likely to be homeless, whether or not they saw combat while in the service. These results could suggest that strong emotional development in childhood is necessary for soldiers to reintegrate into civilian society. Alternatively, they might mean that troubled youth are more likely than their peers to join the military. But, in the end, we can’t definitively say why so many non-combat veterans end up being homeless. The more important question, of course, is ‘How do we get them off the streets and back to normal, productive lives?’

And that, indeed, is the crux of the matter — how to reintegrate these people into the everyday society they have left behind? Switching our emphasis from retribution to rehabilitation is one approach that seems to consistently yield greater and more lasting results when encountered in practice. Mann spends almost half of his column on examining the Veterans Village of San Diego (VVSD). It seems like a very interesting project, one of the few that works in conjunction with — rather than in opposition to — the Veterans Administration.  Just click the link under the Sources (below) to read more.

Source: “Why So Many Homeless Vets in San Diego?,” San Diego Voice, 08/25/10
Image by Ed Yourdon, used under its Creative Commons license.

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California to Shift Prison Population?

JailInteresting things are happening in the California penal system. Both sides of the aisle, left and right, have plans for a big change in the way the prison system works. Of course, much of this is being fueled by the massive deficit facing the state.

It seems that the shortage of cash on the part of the government has those in power trying to find ways to shift the prison population into less costly venues. Michael Gardener, a writer for the San Diego Union-Tribune, explores the details in his recent piece in Sign on San Diego:

The state’s plans to ship low-risk prisoners to local jails could cost counties revenue and are raising fears that inmates may be released early. Transferring non-sex offender prisoners to county jails are centerpieces of dueling plans put forward by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state Senate Democrats as they scramble to close a $19 billion budget gap.

The foundation of both proposals is to save the state money by offering counties incentives — including cash and greater alternative sentencing authority — to accept more prisoners.

The initiatives are drawing resistance from San Diego County supervisors, statewide law enforcement groups and Republican lawmakers.

‘Counties are very concerned and very suspicious,’ said Greg Cox, a San Diego County supervisor.

A variety of arguments, pro and con, are being presented by both the media and the political class. Suppporters stress that, if implemented, plans like this would give the counties greater lattitude to explore alternative methods such as drug treatment, supervised probation, and others methods that are slowly gaining steam as our prisons fill past the bursting point with mostly non-violent offenders.

On the flip side, the counties are wary of state-proposed programs due to the fact that state payments have usually lagged well behind the costs burden that the programs represent. The cost trail will be important to examine, since it will be one of the major factors fueling this debate. Another one, and by far the most important from a human standpoint, is the offenders themselves. While the phrase “early release” ring warning bells for many in California, it is important to examine whether these people truly need to be incarcerated.

What are your thoughts? If you live in California, we would particularly like to hear your pros and cons on this subject.

Source: “State’s plans to send prisoners to county jails worry officials,” Sign On San Diego, 08/25/10
Image by Tim Pearce-Los Gatos, used under its Creative Commons license.

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Troubled Education in San Diego School District

SchoolSo many issues trace back to childhood. The opportunities, the lack thereof, early life traumas, and all the other factors that can impinge on early life, create the building blocks from which the adult is sculpted. Educational opportunities are particularly key, especially during the early years when the mind is so hungry for knowledge.

The Constitution of the State of California guarantees free education. In 1984, the state Supreme Court handed down a decision that refined the legal interpretation to include extracurricular activities offered by public schools. It is an interpretation that the ACLU claims many schools are ignoring.

Tanya Sierra, a staff writer for Sign On San Diego’s Watchdog blog, tells us more:

This month, the ACLU wrote to the San Diego Unified School District in response to a report by The Watchdog that highlighted how fees for uniforms, spirit packs, gym clothes, cheerleading outfits and other items persisted despite a district policy saying such charges violate the state Constitution’s guarantee of free schooling.

[If you'd like to read the letters the ACLU sent to Poway, Grossmont and San Dieguito school districts there are downloadable PDFs of them on the same page as the Watchdog article.]

Corey G. Johnson, a reporter for CaliforniaWatch who specializes in K-12 education, notes that this is not a fresh issue. He has been reporting on it since early this year:

As we wrote in February and in June, numerous instances of school districts disregarding this law has surfaced. Earlier this month, ACLU legal director David Blair-Loy sent the San Diego Unified School District a letter asking for officials to stop several examples of ‘pay to play’ that were found at local schools. The group also asked for the money collected to be refunded to the parents.

The request followed a San Diego Union-Tribune investigation that found schools openly charging fees on their websites, despite a recent local grand jury investigation that slammed the practice.

San Diego superintendent Bill Kowba agreed that the practice was wrong and said the district will cease charging the fees and offer refunds where appropriate.

Situations like these need to be brought into legal compliance. The socialization entailed by extracurricular activities is an important part of childhood development, and access to them is already protected by law.

Source: “ACLU takes school fee effort north and east,” Sign On San Diego Watchdog blog, 08/18/10
Source: “More schools accused of pay-to-play catch ACLU’s gaze,” California Watch, 08/23/10
Image by House of Sims, used under its Creative Commons license.

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