County Unveils Pilot Program to Combat Sex Trafficking

Los Angeles County is moving forward to strengthen the safety net for children who have been victims of sex trafficking. After two years of work, county departments are working together to provide wraparound services for these young people.

“It is our job to protect our children,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “And we will not empower sick unscrupulous pimps and johns who buy and sell children on our streets to criminalize our children as prostitutes. Our children are victims needing our support.”

1MZ_0150The Supervisor joined Board Chairman Don Knabe and representatives of multiple county departments to unveil the first Los Angeles County pilot program to establish a first responder protocol for sex trafficking victims.

Where once young people picked up on sex-related charges were treated as “prostitutes,” both supervisors, emphasized that no child should be given the label.

“Changing the culture, especially in government, can be very difficult, as we all know,” Supervisor Knabe said, adding “but these girls, who may be a neighbor or may be a relative are being tortured with physical and sexual abuse.”

The Federal Bureau of Investigation determined that Los Angeles is one of the nation’s 13 high intensity child prostitution areas, and it is estimated that, 3,000 children in the region are victims of trafficking. The average age these young people are forced or coerced onto the streets is between 12 and13 years-old, and increasingly, sex trafficking is a highly lucrative business run by gangs.

1MZ_0141With the new protocol in place, it is the county’s goal to see that underage victims of sex trafficking no longer are arrested, detained and released in what is often an unending cycle. With the paradigm shift, it is the goal of law enforcement, mental health officials, child protection agencies to surround the victim with care and treatment, ensuring, for example, that they are placed in a safe housing, enrolled in school and given proper physical and mental health services. And the program is only the first of many steps that will be coming to help these children.

The board of supervisors will receive quarterly updates on the results of the new system.

“The pilot is an important first step that establishes a strong response team that will be individualized—treating the needs of each victim, one child at a time,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “What we truly hope is that it creates a bond of trust between these children and the adults who do care about their welfare and have their best interests at heart. With trust, these children can heal. As they heal, they can begin to rebuild their young lives.”

A New Way of Life for Former Inmates

Joseph Baddley, 53, became homeless after being in and out of prison. Not having access to medical care, when Baddley became sick, he hit rock bottom. But thanks to a new program to build more supportive housing in Los Angeles County, Baddley has found an apartment to call home. The 43 units, spread over five formerly blighted and foreclosed properties in South Los Angeles, were specifically created for those who were homeless, veterans in need of housing, former inmates re-entering the community, those living with special needs and those with mental health illnesses.

“Many people helped save my life,” said Baddley. “I love my home and I treat it as a gift,” said Baddley.

Recent ribbon cutting for the the Coalition for Responsible Community Development apartments.

The apartments represent the best of what government, the private sector and community organizations can accomplish when they work together. The project was sponsored by the Coalition for Responsible Community Development and involved a successful collaboration among Los Angeles County, Los Angeles City, the Corporation for Supportive Housing, Restore Neighborhoods Los Angeles, Los Angeles Housing Department, California Housing Finance Agency and Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health among others. The project was completed in August 2013 at a total development cost of $10.5-million. Ten of the 43 units are specifically designed for the visually, physically or mobility impaired.

“CRCD Apartments, with its support from both the City and the County, is a example of permanent supportive housing that works,” said CRCD Executive Director Mark Wilson, noting that residents will be eligible to receive mental health services, regular health care and an array of social services supported with intensive case management.

Former inmate and resident Yolanda Brown. Photo courtesy of CRCD.

For women who have been incarcerated, the apartments offer an especially important place. Many women who are former inmates have trouble finding jobs and housing and end up on the street, where they are often in danger, explained Susan Burton, executive director of A New Way of Life, one of the organizations responsible for the successful re-entry efforts. A New Way of Life supports these residents by providing therapy and legal assistance at court hearings. Many women residents are mothers with children, Burton said. These mothers also receive job training services and assistance with child care.

Resident and former inmate Joseph Baddley tears up while welcoming Supervisor Ridley-Thomas into his new home.

At the recent grand opening of the apartments, Baddley invited a few guests into his home including A New Way of Life Executive Director Susan Burton and Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.

“He invited us into his home, held back his tears best he could and told us his story,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “This is the face of reentry.”

Supporting affordable housing has been a focus for the Supervisor since taking office in 2008. Since 2009, the Supervisor has helped to create 1,100 units in the second district representing a total public/private investment of more than $350-million. And 295 additional units are now under construction representing an additional $121-million.

During his public remarks at the grand opening, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas focused on the economic benefits of supportive housing to the county. He noted that building housing costs far less than incarceration.

“Many talk about redemption, recovery and reentry,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “The Coalition for Responsible Community Development is doing it.”

 

City and County Officials Call for a New Year’s Eve without Gunfire

With the tragedy in Newtown heavy in the air, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas joined law enforcement officials, city and other county leaders to urge New Year’s revelers to celebrate responsibly and forego one of the most season’s most dangerous and deadly rituals: shooting a firearm into the air at the stroke of midnight.

“This is a matter of physics,” the Supervisor said. “What goes up must come down.”
Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck elaborated, emphasizing that a bullet falls to earth at speeds of up to 700 miles per hour — more than enough force to kill.

With guns collected from the Los Angeles City gun buyback held Wednesday on display, Beck, Sheriff Lee Baca, County District Attorney Jackie Lacey and City attorney Carmen Trutanich also emphasized that discharging a firearm, even when aimed up into the air, is a felony and subject to stiff consequences. “Don’t celebrate New Year’s Eve in my jail or in Lee Baca’s jail,” the police chief said.

“Think twice about it,” Lacey urged the public. “Don’t be reckless.” She added that offenders risk a $10,000-fine, three years of incarceration and forever losing the right to own a gun.

“This is not a matter of playtime,” the Supervisor said. “Don’t let your celebration cause someone else to lose his or her life. We have had way too much tragedy and don’t need anymore.”

We Must Reduce Gun Violence

The pain and the horror of the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut continues to haunt the nation. So, in an attempt to reduce gun-related violence Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas has requested the creation of a taskforce made up of law enforcement, public health, mental health officials and the countywide Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee (CCJCC) to develop a comprehensive plan on curbing firearm-related violence in Los Angeles.  “The Newtown, Connecticut massacre is yet another horrific example of the gun-related violence we have endured as a nation,” said Chairman Ridley-Thomas. “Just the other day, I met with a grieving mother who lost her 14-year-old daughter in a senseless shooting. We cannot continue to adhere to policies that allow such easy access to guns. We can respect the 2nd Amendment but we must also endeavor to save lives.”

According to the Los Angeles County Coroner, 75 percent of all homicides in Los Angeles County in 2009 were caused by use of a firearm, a trend that is mirrored nationally. In addition, a 2010 report by the Department of Public Health identified homicide as the leading cause of death for 15-44-year-olds. Since 1982, there have been 62 mass shootings and more than 300 million guns in this country—nearly enough for every man, woman and child.

The motion calls for strategies to reduce the stigma related to mental illness and mental health treatment. The motion also calls for enhanced enforcement of existing laws regulating the possession, sale and purchase of high caliber, high capacity weapons as well as make recommendations on revisions to existing laws and regulations governing the sale, purchase, transfer and possession of firearms and ammunition.

The Board also requested that the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE) will conduct a survey of each of the 80 school districts to make sure they are in compliance with their school safety plan. In addition, the county’s state and federal legislative advocates will report back with proposed legislative solutions for the county.

“I am hopeful that out of this senseless tragedy, we will find the courage and resolve to end this epidemic of firearm related violence,” said Chairman Ridley-Thomas.

Supervisors act to examine and improve realignment services

“The matter is urgent,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. 
The Board of Supervisors today imposed greater oversight on the County Probation Department, which has been struggling to provide services to the inmates recently released from state facilities who now must rely on local agencies for help. Last October, the state shifted responsibility for certain inmates to the counties. Since then, the state has released to local supervision more than 5,000 offenders who were convicted of non-serious, non-violent, and non-sexual crimes. The Probation Department, which is charged with providing released inmates with rehabilitative services such as mental health and substance abuse counseling, housing and job training, has had little success in fulfilling that obligation. Since February, the department has referred only 60% of former inmates to services, of which only 15% actually have received treatment.

The Supervisors today called for more accountability from the department. Acting on a motion sponsored by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, the Board unanimously called for staff to develop a feasibility plan to ascertain how best to expeditiously increase the number of released prisoners who receive rehabilitative services.

To ensure that this target is reached, as part of the motion, staff is directed to examine clear performance goals for both referring departments and agencies, locate referring County service providers, and ensure participation of community- and faith-based organizations.

Officials from the Probation Department told the Supervisors that significant progress already has been made. For example, 48% of those who need mental health services are now receiving treatment. Implementing AB 109, the state’s realignment program, has been a challenge, said Cal Remington, the department’s chief deputy, but Probation increasingly is mandating that the former inmates comply with orders to receive therapeutic and other services.

“Early on we found that many of these coming out with problems did not have a condition that allowed us to, in essence, mandatorily refer them,” Remington said. Now, he said, the department is implementing the use of low-level violations and sanctions on a case-by-case basis.

Representatives from several community-based organizations spoke in favor of the motion; however, some urged the County to resist creating a structure of mandates and resulting violations that could lead to the re-incarceration of returning prisoners.

“We think it’s a positive step,” said Kim McGill of the Youth Justice Coalition. She added that those returning often are hindered in their efforts to comply. The lack of a valid or government-issued identification card, without which they often cannot access educational, housing and health care services, presents an enormous hurdle for many attempting to comply with Probation’s orders.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas emphasized that having the department clearly spell out its guidelines is essential for a successful reentry scenario.

“The matter is urgent,” the Supervisor said. “If we do not see substantially more people receiving the treatment and services they need, no one will be well served; public safety will be undermined and the cycle of recidivism will continue unabated.

It is imperative, the Supervisor continued, that the County not duplicate the State’s abysmal recidivism rate; about 65% of former inmates return to prison within three years.