Friday, May 13, 2022

Arcata Council to Consider Restraining Order, Censure of Watson

Posted By on Fri, May 13, 2022 at 4:01 PM

  • Courtesy of the city of Arcata
  • Brett Watson
The Arcata City Council has scheduled a special May 17 meeting to discuss possible courses of actions, including a recommendation that the city obtain a workplace violence restraining order, after an outside investigation found Councilmember Brett Watson sexually harassed a city employee.

Other options include a public censure, removing Watson from his council assignments and restricting his interaction with staff to council meetings, while also limiting his access to city hall by recalling his key and removing his security code from key code pads.

The recently released 28-page report by Danville-based law firm Kramer Workplace Investigations, which was hired by the city late last year, found “a preponderance of evidence” sustained allegations that Watson engaged in "unprofessional and inappropriate conduct," and "abuse of his power as a city councilmember."

For more on the findings, read this week’s North Coast Journal story “Undisputed” here.

In a recent statement to the Journal, Watson wrote that he has "never harassed anyone" in his life, "worked tirelessly for the residents of Arcata" and tried to make himself available for an interview but was "never contacted by the investigator."

"I'll likely make further comment after I've been able to completely review the report and additional documents," he wrote in the email. "I'm grateful to the public for their continued support over the last several months."

As an elected official, which the city noted when the investigation was launched, Watson can not be fired, reassigned or placed on administrative leave, as might be done in a similar situation involving an employee.

The potential courses of action were outlined by an employment attorney assigned to the city by its risk insurance pool in the wake of the findings.

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Friday, May 6, 2022

California Democrats Lean into Abortion Rights as ‘Defining Issue’

Posted By on Fri, May 6, 2022 at 9:19 AM

Erin Sullivan, wearing a pink glove and waving a coat hanger was one of dozens who turned out to support reproductive health at the courthouse on Tuesday. - PHOTO BY MARK MCKENNA
  • Photo by Mark McKenna
  • Erin Sullivan, wearing a pink glove and waving a coat hanger was one of dozens who turned out to support reproductive health at the courthouse on Tuesday.
When a draft Supreme Court ruling that would overturn the constitutional right to abortion leaked Monday night, Democratic leaders in California reacted swiftly with shock, grief and fury.

It didn’t take long for the personal devastation to turn political.

By Wednesday morning, Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is running for re-election this year, had already cut a new campaign ad about “reproductive freedom under attack.” In a tweet unveiling the ad, he framed defeating “anti-choice Republicans” as the “defining issue of the 2022 election.”

As the stark reality has sunk in that the landmark Roe v. Wade decision is unlikely to make it to its 50th birthday, many Democrats are leaning forcefully into abortion rights as a key election issue. With decades of public polling indicating that a majority of Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, it could be the party’s most potent counterweight in a campaign cycle in which Republicans seem poised to capitalize on voter frustration over inflation and crime.

“Don’t think for a second this is where they stop,” Newsom said Wednesday outside Planned Parenthood Los Angeles, where he raised the alarm that conservatives would also seek to roll back other rights such as same-sex marriage. “Pay attention, America. They’re coming after you next.”

In his remarks, Newsom called for a stronger Democratic counteroffensive on protecting abortion. He slammed Republicans for claiming to be pro-life while opposing policies to provide more support to women and families after a baby is born, previewing a political attack that could soon be coming to swing districts across the country.

“That’s how extreme the Republican Party is in the United States of America. You want extremism? Rape and incest, they don’t even make an exception,” Newsom said. “Wake up, America. Wake up to who you’re electing.”

Democrats, weighed down by sagging approval ratings for President Joe Biden and in danger of losing control of Congress in the November midterm election, have been struggling to find a message that might motivate liberal voters to show up to the polls and persuade moderates to stick with their governance.

Jack Pitney, a professor of politics at Claremont McKenna College, said the reality of a Supreme Court ruling against abortion rights could provide a significant boost. Though warnings about that potential outcome have not historically driven turnout for Democrats while the Roe decision withstood decades of attacks, Pitney said voters are much more alert to loss.

“The issue has moved from the realm of the hypothetical to the realm of the real,” he said.

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Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Rally for Reproductive Rights in Eureka

Posted By on Wed, May 4, 2022 at 11:22 AM

Erin Sullivan, wearing a pink glove and waving a coat hanger was one of dozens who turned out to support reproductive health at the courthouse on Tuesday. - PHOTO BY MARK MCKENNA
  • Photo by Mark McKenna
  • Erin Sullivan, wearing a pink glove and waving a coat hanger was one of dozens who turned out to support reproductive health at the courthouse on Tuesday.
A group of about 50 demonstrators gathered at a rally for reproductive rights in front of the Humboldt County Courthouse Tuesday night after a leaked draft U.S. Supreme Court majority opinion indicts the court may overturn the landmark Roe vs. Wade decision, which instilled the legal right to abortion.

As members of the crowd held up signs with various slogans including, "My Body My Choice," "Keep Abortion Legal" and "Abortion Access Saves Lives," several noted they have been demonstrating for women's reproductive health care rights for far too long.

The Eureka rally was one of many held around the nation following the bombshell  Politico report published Monday night on the potential end of those federal protections after securing the preliminary document written by Justice Samuel Alito that was being circulated among the court.
The draft is not the court's final decision on the 1973 case and the language and votes could still change in the months before the U.S. Supreme Court gives its final word, which, if the opinion stands, could lead to abortion access restrictions in at least a half dozen states, according to media reports.

Chief Justice John Roberts has confirmed the authenticity of the leaked draft and ordered an investigation into the breach, the first of its kind for the nation's highest court in modern times.
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Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Medical Malpractice Deal Could Replace Ballot Measure, Still Raise Monetary Awards

Posted By and on Wed, Apr 27, 2022 at 2:11 PM

Legislators and advocacy groups reach a deal to keep a medical malpractice measure off the ballot. - PHOTO BY ANNE WERNIKOFF FOR CALMATTERS
  • Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
  • Legislators and advocacy groups reach a deal to keep a medical malpractice measure off the ballot.
A measure slated for California’s November ballot that sought to raise the cap on medical malpractice awards could be pulled, under an agreement announced today.

Instead, a bill will seek to raise the cap for a patient’s “non-economic damages,” or pain and suffering, although in a more incremental approach than the ballot measure would have. The bill would eliminate the need for a ballot measure.

Under the legislative deal announced today, starting Jan. 1, 2023, cases not involving a patient death will have a new limit of $350,000, with an increase over the next 10 years to $750,000 and a 2 percent annual adjustment for inflation after that. Meanwhile, cases involving a death will have an increased limit of $500,000 that will grow over the next 10 years to $1 million with a 2 percent annual increase thereafter.

The California Medical Association sent a letter to its members detailing the deal.

“The two sides of the ballot measure campaign have committed to putting patients first, to prioritizing the stability of affordable access to health care, and to set aside differences to do what’s right for all Californians,” the letter signed by Dr. Robert E. Wailes, president of the California Medical Association.

In the letter, Wailes said his organization is working with the Newsom administration and the Legislature to turn this new arrangement into law. “Under the agreement, the initiative will be withdrawn from the ballot and this watershed agreement will preclude another costly fight,”

The ballot measure known as the “Fairness for Injured Patients Act” was brought by families of injured patients and backed by the advocacy group Consumer Watchdog and trial lawyers. It sought to increase the compensation cap for non-economic damages to about $1.2 million. The current cap is set at $250,000 and has been since 1975.

The ballot measure would have allowed a judge to exceed that cap if a patient died or suffered a “catastrophic injury,” meaning an injury that left them permanently disabled or disfigured.

Nick Rowley, a trial attorney that helped author and contributed funding in support of the measure, said taking the legislative route through Assembly Bill 35 secures a cap increase for patients and their families. The legislation would allow for multiple caps — one for a medical institution and for a provider, for example. That means that in a case not involving a death, a patient could potentially hold multiple parties liable and receive more than $350,000, Rowley said.

“That’s a big change and that number is going to go up,” Rowley said.

Carmen Balber, executive director of Consumer Watchdog, which led the support of the measure, said the bill will fundamentally change patients’ access to justice when they are harmed by medical negligence. “The reason it was on the ballot is because families are locked out of the courtroom; they have no access to accountability because of how low this cap is. What this deal does is restore patient’s access to justice,” she said.

In opposition to the measure, a coalition of health providers, including the California Medical Association, argued that the measure would essentially have eliminated the cap and significantly increased the number of lawsuits filed in the state. They argued it would result in less resources for patient care and ultimately drive up the cost of health care.

The ballot measure — now turning into a bill — is the latest attempt to change the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 1975. The law establishes that while Calilfornians who suffer from medical malpractice can recover as much as they need for medical bills and expenses, what they can receive for non-economic damages is limited to $250,000.

In 2014 a similar ballot measure failed.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Police and Prison Guard Misconduct and Bias: Audit Asks State to Step In

Posted By on Tue, Apr 26, 2022 at 4:51 PM

Police departments and state prisons aren’t doing enough to identify and punish bias among their officers and the state should do more to combat the problem, a state audit found. 

The audit, released this morning, recommended that the state Justice Department more regularly investigate how local police departments and sheriff’'s offices handle such alleged incidents, and also urged expanding the authority of the Racial and Identity Profiling Advisory Board to verify that departments are actually implementing their bias policies.

Police departments erred by focusing only on blatant instances of bias, the audit found, and relied heavily on officers’ denials of bias, prematurely dismissed complaints and failed to consider how officers’ conduct could appear “to a reasonable person.” 

The audit found “poor investigation practices” at three of the five departments it reviewed. The departments “often did not reach a formal conclusion about bias even when the facts in a case indicated that such a conclusion would be reasonable.”

It contended that the Los Angeles Sheriff’s office, San Bernardino Police and Stockton Police each prematurely dismissed at least one complaint alleging biased conduct. In one, it said, an officer accused a Black man of playing the “race card” and went on to say he wishes “we lived in a world, back in the (19)60s and (19)70s, where we could feel comfortable”— a statement that, the audit notes, “overlooks the negative experiences of many Black Americans during that era.” Yet an internal investigation concluded that the officer had behaved appropriately.

The audit, requested by the joint Legislative Audit Committee, also examined officers at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and San Jose Police.

Among its recommendations: 

  • The Legislature should create a definition of biased conduct and require law enforcement departments to use that definition in bias investigations
  • The Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training should conduct interviews and obtain character references for prospective officers, and develop guidance for screening applicants’ social media posts
  • The Justice Department should establish guidelines for local third-party groups to investigate misconduct, and any department without an independent review group should be regularly audited by the Justice Department

CalMatters has found that civilian oversight can have a dramatic effect on the rate of sustained complaints of police misconduct at departments. 

While the audit found no officers with affiliations to hate groups in its review of 753 officers, it faulted the departments’ lack of internal controls, which could identify prejudiced officer behavior and require appropriate retraining or discipline. 

“The biased conduct that we identified at the five law enforcement departments likely occurred in part because the departments have not fully implemented comprehensive strategies for addressing bias within their organizations,” the audit said.

The audit acknowledged that the incidents it surfaced involved only a small number of officers at each department — attributable in part, it said, to the fact that it looked at a sampling. “Moreover,” it said, “the behavior of even a few officers can erode a community’s trust in law enforcement and damage the relationship between a department and the community it serves.”

Of the six instances of bias found in the audit, one was a statement defending the Proud Boys and accusing the group’s opponents as “in reality just against masculinity.” The same officer posted transphobic and anti-Asian sentiments, the audit found. 

Two officers posted messages or images in support of the Three Percenters, which the Southern Poverty Law Center identifies as an anti-government ideology. 

A fourth officer liked an anti-immigrant group not identified in the audit, another one promoted posts saying same-sex parents are harmful to their children and the sixth officer liked a social media page praising the Confederacy. 

The problem, experts say, is that measures to combat extremism as it exists today are an antiquated cure for an evolving threat. 

“It’s not like being in the Mafia or joining the Klan,” said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. “These brick-and-mortar hate groups are disappearing. There’s no Kiwanis Club of Evil out there.” 

In their place are amorphous, non-hierarchical groups that form principally online, like the Proud Boys or Oath Keepers.

“The bottom line is, the fact that we’re finding even these examples in the most obvious and stupidly, publicly conveyed circumstances tells you a lot,” Levin said. “We’re picking up a limited set of lightning strikes but missing a lot of the storm damage that comes in.” 

In at least three other states and Washington, D.C., legislation intended to flush extremists from the ranks of law enforcement have run into legislative opposition. Bills in Oregon, Minnesota and Tennessee aimed to either increase screening of police officers or make it easier to remove those with ties to hate groups. Groups aligned with law enforcement say such measures impinge on officers’ First Amendment rights. 

In California, some law enforcement groups echoed those concerns.

A bill by Democratic Assemblymember Ash Kalra of San Jose would screen new officers for hate group ties and make it easier to terminate those with such ties. AB 655 is in the state Senate now after clearing the Assembly on a largely party-line vote.

The conservative Eagle Forum has argued that such an approach would overreach, threatening the jobs of officers based purely on a group affiliation. 

“We are concerned by the broad, vague and arbitrary definition of what constitutes hate speech and hate organizations,” the Eagle Forum wrote in opposition to the legislation. “The majority of Americans don’t want to fire people from their jobs because of their political beliefs.”

But these aren’t just any Americans and this isn’t just any job, Levin said.

Asked to breach this divide, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 5-4 ruling in 1983 that grants public employees protected speech only when they “speak about matters of public concern.” 

Two years later, the 11th U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that a Duval County, Florida, sheriff’s office clerical employee could be fired after he announced at a Klu Klux Klan press conference that he was both a sheriff’s office employee and a Klan recruiter. The court instituted a balancing test for public employees and speech, and found that though membership alone in a hate group is constitutionally protected, the public perception of bias in the sheriff’s office – and nothing the clerical employee actually did on the job – merited his firing. 

The circuit court found that a law enforcement agency doesn’t violate an employee’s First Amendment rights by firing them for participating in an organization with a violent history that has become known to the public. 

Such a situation would create “an understandably adverse public reaction that seriously and dangerously threatens to cripple the ability of the law enforcement agency to perform effectively its public duties,” according to the ruling. 

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Sunday, April 17, 2022

Justice for Josiah Vigil

Posted By on Sun, Apr 17, 2022 at 2:22 PM

Members of the crowd at the vigil pose for a group shot with Charmaine Lawson. - PHOTO BY MARK MCKENNA
  • Photo by Mark McKenna
  • Members of the crowd at the vigil pose for a group shot with Charmaine Lawson.
Charmaine Lawson spoke Friday at a courthouse candlelight vigil, continuing her call for justice five years after the still unsolved fatal stabbing of her son, David Josiah Lawson, at a house party in Arcata.

On the same day, the Arcata Police Department once again put out the call for witnesses to come forward, stating that their accounts of the events in those early morning hours of April 15, 2017, "are crucial to bringing this case back to court."

"It is paramount that witnesses come forward," Chief Brian Ahearn said in a statement. "Our investigative team remains at the ready to respond to anyone at any time to document their statement as we continue the fact-finding process."

During the vigil, Charmaine Lawson said she will be meeting Monday with the California attorney general to discuss the case, which has been troubled from the start, plagued by a series of crucial initial missteps in controlling and processing the crime scene and securing potential witnesses, and subsequent trouble getting additional witnesses to come forward and cooperate.
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Friday, April 15, 2022

Vigil Today to Mark Fifth Anniversary of Josiah Lawson's Killing, Arcata Police Renew Call for Witnesses to Come Forward

Posted By on Fri, Apr 15, 2022 at 11:50 AM

Charmaine Lawson is hugged by supporters at a 2019 vigil for her son, David Josiah Lawson. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • Charmaine Lawson is hugged by supporters at a 2019 vigil for her son, David Josiah Lawson.
Today, on the fifth anniversary of the still unsolved killing of David Josiah Lawson, his mother is holding a 4 p.m. candlelight vigil at the courthouse to call for justice for her son and the Arcata Police Department is once again putting out the call for witnesses to come forward. 

"It is paramount that witnesses come forward," Chief Brian Ahearn said in a statement. "Our investigative team remains at the ready to respond to anyone at any time to document their statement as we continue the fact-finding process."
Josiah Lawson
  • Josiah Lawson

Josiah Lawson, a sophomore at then Humboldt State University, was fatally stabbed in the early the morning of April 15, 2017, amid a series of fights outside of an Arcata house party.

Kyle Zoellner, who was a 23-year-old McKinleyville resident at the time, was arrested at the scene and charged with Lawson's murder, but a Humboldt County Superior Court judge dismissed the case a few weeks later, finding there was insufficient evidence to hold him for trial.

Since then, the case has languished. Witness accounts, the APD release states, "are crucial to bringing this case back to court."

Meanwhile, Charmaine Lawson has been a constant presence in Humboldt County as she continues her call for justice, joined by other community members.

But the investigation into the her son's fatal stabbing has been troubled from the start, plagued by a series of crucial initial missteps in controlling and processing the crime scene and securing potential witnesses, and subsequent trouble getting additional witnesses to come forward and cooperate.

A February 2020 report from the National Police Foundation found that while the emergency response did everything possible to try to save Lawson's life, “many basic tenets of crime scene security and management” were not followed. The report cited a systemic failure by the police department’s then leadership to provide adequate training on crime scene management and command skills, which severely hindered the ensuing investigation.

That was followed a few months later by a Humoldt County Civil Grand Jury report, which found "failures, ineptitudes and poorly executed police work" but stated "it did not find direct evidence of racial bias."

A criminal grand jury convened in February of 2019 to hear evidence in the case voted not to indict anyone.

In July, Charmaine Lawson settled a lawsuit she filed against the city of Arcata under an agreement which included a $200,000 payment to the Lawson family as well as the city making a $25,000 donation to the David Josiah Lawson Memorial Scholarship fund and agreeing to the painting of a memorial mural.

Read the APD release below:

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Friday, March 25, 2022

SoHum Man Pleads Guilty in Grisly 2020 Killing

Posted By on Fri, Mar 25, 2022 at 5:51 PM

Humboldt County Courthouse - FILE
  • file
  • Humboldt County Courthouse
A Southern Humboldt man pleaded guilty today to manslaughter in connection with the grisly February of 2020 killing of a man that he reportedly kidnapped off a rural road.

Under the plea deal, 34-year-old Ryan Tanner is scheduled to be sentenced April 11 to 39 years in prison and agreed to waive credit for the two years he has already served in jail, according to a news release from the Humboldt County District Attorney's Office. He also entered guilty pleas to 11 counts involving seven other people.

Jury selection had been underway for Tanner's trial in the death of Jason Todd Garrett, 32, whose body was found on the defendant's property.

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Thursday, March 10, 2022

Newsom, Unions Eye $50k Bonuses for Juvenile Prison Workers

Posted By on Thu, Mar 10, 2022 at 6:20 PM

A guard tower at the N. A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility in Stockton on March 2, 2022. - PHOTO BY MIGUEL GUTIERREZ JR., CALMATTERS
  • Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters
  • A guard tower at the N. A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility in Stockton on March 2, 2022.
As the state prepares to close its youth prisons, workers for the Division of Juvenile Justice could receive up to $50,000 bonuses to stay on the job until then, CalMatters has learned.

If approved, the bonus appears to be among the largest offered by the state to retain a group of employees. 

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration and at least six unions are negotiating the pay bumps, hoping the large incentives will keep the youth facilities staffed until their June 30, 2023 closures. 

Since Newsom announced closure plans, employees have started leaving the division for new jobs, fueling a worker shortage. 

Under a draft plan obtained by CalMatters, direct care employees — youth prison guards, plumbers, teachers and chaplains  —  are among the hundreds of Division of Juvenile Justice employees who’d receive up to $50,000 in additional pay. Non-direct care employees, who mostly work for headquarters in Sacramento — deputy directors, executive assistants and nursing consultants, for instance — could receive up to $25,000. 

Past retention bonuses for state prison workers have typically hovered between $2,400 and $5,000, according to documents on the California Department of Human Resources’ website.

“Negotiations are still active on this topic, we do not comment on active labor negotiations,” wrote CalHR spokesperson Camille Travis in an email response to CalMatters. “Once the negotiations are completed, the agreements will be posted to the CalHR website.”

According to the State Controller’s Office, 775 people worked at youth facilities as of Jan. 31, 2022. If all of them qualify for the full lump sum, it could cost California more than $38 million. By law, if the agreement is more than $1 million in net costs, the Legislature would have to approve it. 

All of the unions representing youth corrections employees in the bonus negotiations donated to stop Newsom from being recalled in last year’s election. The largest contributor was the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, which gave $1.75 million, according to the Secretary of State’s website.

The governor’s office did not respond Wednesday to a request for comment, with a spokesperson citing ongoing negotiations.

This is the second time in two years the state has proposed bonuses for juvenile justice employees. Last year, the state offered a limited group of employees $5,000 annually, which totaled $12,500 if employees stuck around. The new proposal would sweeten the deal, extending the bonuses to more Division of Juvenile Justice workers and quadrupling the maximum amount. 

The taxable bonuses would be prorated, according to the draft agreement. 

The Division of Juvenile Justice employees would be eligible for all or part of the proposed bonuses, said agency spokesperson Mike Sicilia in an email to CalMatters. 

“Recruitment and retention efforts aim to retain our valued staff to ensure our facilities are properly operating, and that DJJ is able to continue giving the youth in our charge the best education and rehabilitative opportunities before the planned closure next year,” wrote Sicilia.

According to the Department of Finance, the state has about 1,000 permanent positions authorized between the four juvenile institutions. Roughly 23% of those positions are vacant, according to a CalMatters analysis of the budget report and data from the Controller’s Office. 

N.A. Chaderjian and O. H. Close Youth Correctional Facilities, both in Stockton, have the highest vacancy rates, around 26 percent. In addition, about 20 percent of budgeted permanent positions at Pine Grove Conservation Camp and Ventura Youth Correctional Facility are unfilled. 

“Recruitment and retention efforts aim to retain our valued staff to ensure our facilities are properly operating.”

Spokesperson for the Division of Juvenile Justice

Contracts with correctional unions are often controversial for their costs. Last year, amid the pandemic, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association negotiated a new contract that faced criticism from the Legislative Analyst’s Office, California’s nonpartisan budget and policy experts.

The office dinged the administration for increasing prison guards’ compensations “without clear justification.” In addition, they noted that the large contract did not address one of the biggest changes facing the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation: impending adult and youth prison closures

“Depending on how and when the DJJ facilities close, employees could be affected directly, either through relocation to other assignments … or through job loss,” the analyst’s office wrote last year.  

“There could be various issues related to the closure of DJJ … that could be topics at the bargaining table. The new agreement does not appear to contain any provisions related to these issues.”

After the analysis, the Legislature overwhelmingly approved the new contract between the state and the union. 

Now, the Legislature may have to decide on another financial package for youth prison employees. 

The division spokesperson would not say how many staffers would be laid off during the transition. But according to its website, the division is trying to place juvenile employees in other jobs inside the department. 

The state is negotiating the final agreement. 

California has offered significant incentives in the past to keep state workers from leaving. 

In 2003, prison psychiatrists and doctors received an “extra $2,200 a month as a recruitment and retention bonus,” according to a San Francisco Chronicle story. More recently, in 2020, nurses for the Schools of the Blind and Deaf were approved for a monthly bonus of 5 percent of their normal salary, up to $589.55. 

Effort to retain youth corrections employees could cost more than $38 million

The Division of Juvenile Justice plans to close all youth facilities by June 30, 2023. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration and several unions are negotiating pay bonuses to help retain employees within the division. Under a draft plan, as many as 775 employees could see bonuses up to $50,000 based on their job titles, which could cost more than $38 million if implemented. Below is a sample of affected job titles.


up to $50,000 bonus

Youth Correctional Officer

Automobile Mechanic

Lead Groundskeeper

School Psychologist

Teacher (Elementary-Multiple Subjects)

Substitute Academic Teacher

Locksmith I 

Chief Engineer I

Lieutenant, Youth Authority

Captain, Youth Authority


up to $25,000 bonus

Youthful Offender Parole Board Representative

Research Data Specialist III

Vocational Instructor (Computer And Related Technologies)

Office Technician (Typing)

Supervisor Of Vocational Instruction

Career Executive Assignment (Deputy Director)

Treatment Team Supervisor

Administrative Assistant I

Associate Governmental Program Analyst

Executive Assistant

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Friday, March 4, 2022

Newsom Unveils ‘Completely New Strategy’ for California’s Mental Health Crisis

Posted By on Fri, Mar 4, 2022 at 9:17 AM

Governor Gavin Newsom at press conference on the next phase of the state’s pandemic response on Feb. 17, 2022. - PHOTO BY ALISHA JUCEVIC FOR CALMATTERS
  • Photo by Alisha Jucevic for CalMatters
  • Governor Gavin Newsom at press conference on the next phase of the state’s pandemic response on Feb. 17, 2022.
Gov. Gavin Newsom today unveiled a much anticipated proposal to address a mental health crisis increasingly visible on trash-strewn sidewalks and in cramped jail cells around California.

The proposal, known as the Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment (or CARE) Court, would provide a framework for courts to compel people with serious mental illnesses and substance use disorders into treatment, while also providing participants with supportive housing and wrap-around services.

“This is a completely new strategy,” Newsom said at a press conference today to introduce the new plan.  “And I hope that creates a space for a different conversation than we’ve had in the past.”

All 58 counties would be required to participate in the program, which is currently just a policy framework and still needs to be approved by the Legislature. Counties could face penalties for failing to provide requisite services, administration officials said. 

“This is a completely new strategy. And I hope that creates a space for a different conversation than we’ve had in the past.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom

That’s one of several details that differentiates this proposal from Laura’s Law, which also entails court-ordered treatment but allows counties to decide whether they want to participate. Newsom noted that, in one year, only 218 people were served by Laura’s Law. The Newsom administration estimates that the CARE Court program could serve between 7,000 and 12,000 Californians.

Administration officials say the new proposal is different, in part, because of the resources it comes with. It builds on a $12 billion allocation to address homelessness last year, as well as another $2 billion proposed this year, they said. 

People could come into the program through short-term involuntary hospital stays (also known as “5150s”), through the criminal justice system or at the recommendation of family members, mental health providers or first responders, among others. They would not need to be homeless to participate.

The court would order a tailored plan involving some combination of housing, medication and services, and would offer the support of a full clinical team, as well as a public defender and a “supporter” who could help a participant make care decisions and prepare advanced mental health directives.

Unlike with conservatorships, which can be indefinite, participation would be time limited – one year, with the possibility of an additional one-year extension.

A stream of state and local leaders spoke to the urgency of the need at the news conference, held on the San Jose campus of Momentum for Health, a behavioral health treatment organization.  

Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Stephen Manley, a widely regarded trailblazer who has presided over that county’s mental health court for decades, told those gathered: “We need to stop trying to fix a failed system that is rapidly, in my view, from what I see every day, moving us back to where we were 100 years ago when the answer for the mentally ill was simply to incarcerate them, put them in the hospital and keep them there until they die.”

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, whose city has seen a dramatic burgeoning of encampments in its parks, vacant lots and underpasses, described joining the city’s homeless count on a recent freezing morning. She lost her composure as she shooed a rat off of a sleeping woman, she said. She later learned that the woman had spent three years living in that same spot, feeding rats because they were her “chosen company” and refusing services.

“She had been offered care, shelter, housing countless times but had been left to freeze on the pavement of our city,” Schaaf said. 

“It’s time that our Golden State stops walking by our greatest moral shame and faces it head-on with clarity and compassion,” she said.

“It’s time that our Golden State stops walking by our greatest moral shame and faces it head-on with clarity and compassion.”

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf

With the new proposal, state leaders are trying to forge a new path beyond the decades-long stalemate surrounding involuntary treatment of the most seriously mentaly ill.

Mark Ghaly, the secretary of Health and Human Services, described the need to move beyond “old and broken models.” The Lanterman-Petris-Short Act, which established the standards for involuntary treatment for people with disabilities, passed in 1967, more than half a century ago. In recent years, much of the debate about how to serve people with serious mental illness has centered on whether or not to change that law. Bills moving through the Legislature are still grappling with that question.

Newsom took care to emphasize his interest in working with disability rights groups on the new proposal.

Kevin Baker, director of governmental relations for ACLU California Action, said in an email to CalMatters that his organization is “keeping an open mind” while waiting to see more details, though noting that “there are a million questions and a million things that could go wrong.”

“The problem of homelessness is caused by the cost of housing, and we won’t solve homelessness, mental health or substance abuse problems in our communities by locking people up and drugging them against their will,” he said. “New funding for housing and services would be good, if we also keep in mind that people don’t lose their civil liberties just because the government wants to help them, no matter how sincerely.”  

He added that he thought the proposal is a significant and complex change in the law that should be heard by legislative committees and “not quietly slipped into a budget trailer bill as I hear may be the plan.”

County behavioral health departments would shoulder significant responsibility for implementing the new plan. Michelle Doty Cabrera, executive director of the California Behavioral Health Directors Association, told CalMatters that her members are all too aware of the “runaway train of need” for mental health services. While celebrating Newsom’s commitment to bring in more funding for housing, she said she worried that the administration was not planning to allocate enough resources for increased services. 

“There’s no way you can squeeze blood from a turnip,” she said. “We’re at our limit in terms of what we can do. We need more resources to do more.”

The California State Association of Public Administrators, Public Guardians, and Public Conservators echoed this sentiment in a similar statement, saying they needed more resources to meet the “significant impacts” the program would undoubtedly have on demand for their services.

“The governor has thrown down the gauntlet and said we’re going to change things in a big way.”

Randall Hagar, legislative advocate and policy consultant for the Psychiatric Physicians Alliance of California

Randall Hagar, legislative advocate and policy consultant for the Psychiatric Physicians Alliance of California, called the new proposal “really welcome.

“The governor has thrown down the gauntlet and said we’re going to change things in a big way,” he said. “It’s one of the first new ideas I’ve heard in a long time.”

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