Thursday, December 24, 2015

[Multnomah County, OR] Grand jury: Community needs more mental health services than what's provided in jail

Blog Note:  This item is included only to note that there is another state, Oregon, that uses the civil grand jury process, at least for jails inspection.

Mental health services for inmates at Multnomah County jails are not adequate, a citizen panel said this week.

The Corrections Grand Jury, which reviews the jail operations of the Sheriff's Office, released its annual report that praised much of the departments work but also repeated concerns about mental health and juvenile education. It convened Oct. 12 and spent seven weeks on the report.

"Sheriff (Dan Staton) will review it and talk with our administrative staff," said Lt. Steve Alexender, spokesman, about the report released during Christmas week. "We'll go over it and the sheriff will sit down the team."

The panel interviewed 68 people, including inmates, health-care workers, jailers, administrators and judges, and nearly all said jails have unintentionally become "the community's main resource to treat mental illness, although the system is not funded or resourced accordingly." Jury members visited the county's Inverness Jail, downtown detention center, courthouse holding areas, the Donald E. Long Juvenile Detention Center and the Columbia River Correctional Institution.

Multnomah County jails remain "a sub-optimal system" to treat mental health issues, according to the report, despite the availability of corrections and mental-health counselors, health workers, psychiatric nurse practitioners, registered nurses and forensic fellows, as well as deputies who are trained in communication and de-escalation techniques. For the second consecutive year, 43 percent of all jail inmates have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder but the exact number isn't given.

"Many inmates are in custody for a short time, release dates are unpredictable; jail is inherently stressful and there is little support in the community after release," the report says.

This year's report de-emphasized past concerns about suicide watches and the overtime paid by the taxpayer to keep deputies constantly watching inmates with serious mental health issues. Last year's grand jury report detailed significant concern about suicide watches that cost the taxpayer $900,000 in deputy overtime in fiscal 2014. Suicide watches have been key concerns by grand juries since 2011.

The county "reduced the need for suicide watches, which are extremely costly, by adding more mental health staff that can intervene with inmates sooner and more effectively," according to the report. Exactly how much the Sheriff's Office budgeted for overtime this year for suicide watches would likely not be available until next week, Alexander said.

Judges and county officials spanning the Sheriff's Office, District Attorney's Office, Health Department, told the panel of seven jurors the county should not and cannot solve the community's mental health problems on its own. The community needs an expansion of mental health services, including more treatment beds, service providers and more collaboration.

Jurors praised the effort to build the Unity Center for Behavioral Health, a joint project by several local hospitals through public and private donations, that should add 100 inpatient beds and a 24-hour emergency room to treat people with mental health crises.

Elsewhere, jurors praised the county for a partnership with Education Northwest that will cover $54,000 in research costs. The project should help the county and student inmates through the process of entering a juvenile detention facility, inmates' education while in the center and the process of re-enrolling in public school.

Education services, for at least two years, have been concerns from the jury, in particular the average 10-day stay for young people at a detention center. It often takes school districts 10 days to release student records, but state laws require students receive education the day after entry.

That means teachers at the detention centers must rely on parents and the students on their educational plans. Additionally, about 70 percent of the youth come with some level of trauma and two-thirds of the students are special education students, according to the report.

-- Tony Hernandez, The Oregonian/OregonLive


[Monterey County] Grand jury found flaws in Monterey County social services department

Blog Note:  The following link is to a TV News report that refers to a 2014-2015 grand jury report related to the subject of the report:

Grand jury found flaws in Monterey County social services department.

The referenced report may be found on the Monterey Country Grand Jury website as:  The response may also be found the same website as

Saturday, December 19, 2015

[Kern County] Sound Off by Readers of the Bakersfield Californian

This feedback forum is designed to give readers a way to voice criticisms and compliments or ask questions about The Californian's news coverage. Your questions may be edited for space.
Reader: I read Theo Douglas’ rather snarky remark about the grand jury being “purveyors of finer reading material since never,” and while I confess to not being snark-free myself, I want to point out that the grand jury is mandated to exist and produce reports in particular formats.
The grand jury consists of 19 members who essentially volunteer their time for an entire year and get paid pocket change. By and large, these folks are sincere about fulfilling their charge in examining county and city government and reporting their findings to the general public. If they find problems within a department, they report that and make suggestions; if they find things are going well they report that. The members have varying levels of education and competency but shouldn’t be mocked for their efforts.
— Susan Reep
Price: That was attempt at humor on Theo’s part, I’m sure. Grand Jury reports are sometimes written in less than scintillating prose, but you’re right — these are volunteers with a very specific (and important) role to play. This particular Kern County grand jury has been blessed (or cursed) with a largely corruption-free calendar of investigations, so the reading is not as riveting as in some years, but it’s important nonetheless. I asked Theo about his snark. Here’s his response:
“I appreciate the time grand jury members spend investigating issues throughout Kern County and I don't doubt their sincerity. But if local agencies are well-run and things are going about as well as can be expected, I don’t think a grand jury needs to spend its time telling us that. I want to read about problems in Kern County that really need fixing, and I know they’re out there.”
December 18, 2015
The Bakersfield Californian
By Robert Price

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

[Contra Costa County] West Contra Costa district revises process for selecting bond-oversight members

Blog note: this article references a Contra Costa County Grand Jury report that inspired the revisions.
RICHMOND -- The West Contra Costa district school board Wednesday agreed to revise the process for appointing members to the committee that oversees its $1.6 billion bond construction program, stripping itself of the ability to individually select members.
The Citizens' Bond Oversight Committee is charged with watching over the effectiveness of the district spending of voter-approved bonds to build and renovate schools and other bond-funded spending. But complaints have steadily grown in recent years that the committee has lacked the ability to properly monitor the spending, which some have accused of being exorbitant and wasteful.
Previously, each of the five West Contra Costa school board members was responsible for appointing one member to a 19-member board, with the city councils of the five cities in the district, plus the county, representing unincorporated areas, appointing seven more. Various community representatives filled the remaining positions.
With the reorganization, the CBOC will now have a maximum of 17 members, including nine at-large members chosen from residents of the five cities and the unincorporated areas in the district who apply for the positions.
The committee will also have representatives from senior citizens, taxpayers and business organizations, a parent or guardian, and a parent or guardian who is a PTA member, all of which are required by law. The members will be appointed by the board as a whole.
The committee also added representatives from an employee union and from the Contra Costa building trades as well as a student representative.
The changes will go into effect as the two-year terms of the current members expire.
The alterations were inspired in part by a Contra Costa Civil Grand Jury report that criticized the size, makeup and effectiveness of the CBOC, according to trustee Val Cuevas, one of two board members on the district's governance subcommittee who recommended the changes.
They also follow a preliminary report issued Monday by the firm hired to perform a forensic audit of the bond program that identified a "high risk" for "waste, abuse and financial irregularities" in the past because of conflict of interest.
"(The new CBOC) will not be under the influence of elected representatives," Cuevas said. "The school board and city councils cannot appoint board members anymore and, instead, the members will self-nominate by applying for the positions."
Later in the meeting, trustees approved a report from an architecture firm hired to create a priority list laying out the order in which older schools will be rebuilt or replaced using about $200 million that is left in bond program funding.
The creation of a Facilities Master Plan became a priority when Measure H, a $270 million bond measure, failed at the polls in June 2014.
Fresno-based Darden Architects reported that it has met with stakeholders at the 21 schools under consideration for a rebuild or renovation and evaluated the condition of the schools.
The top criteria for prioritizing projects that emerged from the meetings were the physical condition of the school, safety and security, and the number of years since the school last received improvements.
The data gathered from those and other community meetings will be evaluated by a prioritization committee consisting of parents of elementary school students from the service areas of the district's six comprehensive high schools, representatives from each city in the district and the county, and three district staff members.
The committee's report that will include a priority list will be released in April.
The board also held its annual reorganization meeting, selecting trustee Randy Enos as school board president and Liz Block as board clerk for 2016.
December 11, 2015
Contra Costa Times
By Rick Radin

[San Diego County] DA hits SD Unified with warrant in Foster case

SD school board trustee under criminal investigation

Blog note: this article references a May 2015 San Diego County Grand Jury report recommending that the San Diego Unified School District strengthen its ethics and conduct rules for trustees. This is one of the rare—but important—instances where the results of a civil grand jury investigation have led to a criminal investigation.
The San Diego Unified School District was served a warrant Thursday from the District Attorney’s Office for a criminal investigation into trustee Marne Foster — two days after her controversial term as board president came to a close.
“We are directing our staff to cooperate with the investigation,” said Andra Donovan, general counsel for San Diego Unified.
Since the warrant is sealed for 10 days, it’s not publicly known exactly what the case entails, but San Diego Unified said the District Attorney’s Office is “seeking information relevant to a criminal investigation they are conducting into the conduct of” Foster.
The school district already had been conducting its own investigation into allegations that Foster was secretly behind a $250,000 claim filed last year against the district — which it rejected — accusing the School of Creative and Performing Arts of sabotaging Foster’s son’s college plans.
When The San Diego Union-Tribune first reported last year that a claim had been filed against the district by John Marsh, the father of Foster’s son, the trustee said she had no part in the complaint.
Since then, Marsh told the Voice of San Diego that Foster pressured him to sign a blank claim form that she later filled out and submitted.
Marsh also told the online news organization that Foster used his email account and posed as him in responding to questions from the Union-Tribune.
The school district investigation also was looking into a fundraiser Foster held in July — attended by district officials and contractors — to help raise money to cover college costs for two of her sons.
Organizers of the “Brothers 2 College” benefit failed to properly register the event — and a prize drawing that was held — with the state. Participants paid $25 at the door or $20 in advance to attend the event at the Neighborhood House Association headquarters, which has a contract with the district. Among the attendees were district employees, trustee John Lee Evans, and San Diego teachers union President Lindsay Burningham.
Following questions about conflicts-of-interest regarding the event, Foster later apologized and promised to return some of the donations.
San Diego Unified announced Thursday it suspended its long-delayed investigation into Foster’s alleged improprieties, which was commissioned Sept. 29 and launched Oct. 2 as a “30-day independent investigation” that would cost no more than $40,000.
“We can’t parallel the DA investigation with our own investigation because it might interfere. We will take a step back and let them do their job,” Donovan said.
In order to serve a warrant, a judge must agree that there is probable cause that a crime has been committed, according to legal experts.
But Donovan said the warrant was required to obtain records that would otherwise be protected under the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, and which could not be released except pursuant to warrant or subpoena. A subpoena cannot be issued unless charges have been filed or a grand jury is convened, neither of which is required for a warrant, she said.
Foster did not respond to a request for comment.
Neither did Michael McQuary, who was elected board president by trustees during the annual reorganization of officers on Tuesday. The District Attorney’s Office also declined to comment.
Foster also has been accused of forcing the district administration to suspend a counselor and reassign the principal at her son’s school over an unflattering college assessment of Foster’s son. After Foster obtained a copy of the confidential letter — which was included in the common college application — it was replaced with a more-flattering assessment written by another counselor. According to the Foster family’s unsuccessful legal claim, the college assessment resulted in the loss of scholarships and financial aid.
Earlier this year, San Diego Unified released documents and emails intended to explain the personnel decisions that were handed down at the popular magnet school.
Superintendent Cindy Marten has said Foster had a history of attempting to meddle in personnel issues. She went on to say that although Foster called attention to issues at her son’s school, the personnel decisions were not made because of the trustee. Marten said problems at the school had been on the district’s radar going back months, even predating her being named superintendent.
Kim Abagat, the counselor who was suspended without pay for nine days over the college letter, accused the district of retaliation and discrimination in a legal claim filed with the district Nov. 24. The pending complaint, which seeks in excess of $10,000 in damages, is the necessary precursor to a lawsuit.
Attorney Dan Gilleon, who represents Abagat, said the DA’s case could benefit his client if it forces the district “to be more transparent.”
“If Marne Foster is convicted of a crime, her veracity would be called into question in trial,” he said. “That would help my case.”
Donovan said the district will fully comply with all requests made by the DA.
“We believe it is incumbent upon San Diego Unified to cooperate fully with the District Attorney’s Office and to avoid interfering with that investigation,” she said.
A month after Foster held the benefit to raise money for college tuition and debt for her sons, San Diego Unified responded in August to a May county grand jury report that called for the district to strengthen its ethics and conduct rules for trustees. The district said it would be taking no action.
The grand jury found the district’s conduct code, conflict-of-interest policy and governance manual are “not sufficient to prevent trustees from exerting undue influence in matters involving a particular school within their district.”
The grand jury did not identify any trustee or campus, but the findings match an August 2014 report in the Union-Tribune, detailing accusations that Foster wielded her political influence to make the personnel changes at her son’s school.
Foster is up for re-election next year. She has a loyal base of supporters who have rallied behind her through the allegations. Foster was presented with a bouquet of pink roses from a supporter on Tuesday as she passed the gavel to McQuary.
December 10, 2015
The San Diego Union-Tribune
By Maureen Magee