Helen Arase

This is some of Helen Arase's reporting. Please explore the rest of my site, including my work from USC and my photojournalism.


Feature Text

MENTAL HEALTH CARE AND L.A. JAILS: ARE THERE RESOURCES TO REJOIN SOCIETY?

Oct. 11, 2017

On a quiet property in an average neighborhood of El Monte, Calif., Viviane Lafebre picks up four plastic bowls and sets of utensils. The metal utensils return to a locked cabinet. The employees must keep any sharp objects out of reach. 

"Looks like nobody ate this morning," Lafebre chuckles. "They don't usually eat Saturday mornings. Oh, but for lunch, they're having sushi." 

Lafebre is a transitional rehabilitation specialist and mental health worker at Braswell Rehabilitation Institute for Development of Growth and Educational Services, or BRIDGES, an 18-month dual-diagnosis rehabilitation inpatient center. 

Each "client" has a mental illness and recovering from substance or alcohol addiction – a dual-diagnosis. Not all of BRIDGES' clients come directly from incarceration but those that do can be very successful at here. 

"They keep their place clean. They're on time for their chores, on time for class, on time for group. They're all great. Most of the time they come here because they want to better themselves." 

This is one resource for those who need mental health care at the point of reentry after incarceration. Advocacy coalitions and groups like the Los Angeles Regional Reentry Partnership (LARRP) or National Alliance on Mental Illness' Los Angeles County Council (NAMI LACC) work in the community and with law enforcement to establish practices and affect public policy. 

 L.A. County Sheriff's Department vehicle photograph by  James  via Wikimedia Commons

L.A. County Sheriff's Department vehicle photograph by James via Wikimedia Commons

Mental health advocates sit on LARRP's Steering Committee, which is like a board of directors. The organization consists of four committees for each initiative, including housing, health care, employment and supportive community services. NAMI is a national, state and local organization with mental health lobbyists from Washington D.C. to grassroots organizers throughout L.A. County. Los Angeles' 12 affiliates hold support groups, awareness events and law enforcement training.

Advocacy organizations like NAMI and LARRP can connect those leaving the criminal justice system to programs for their specific mental health needs or other support resources other than inpatient programs too. 

Programs like Project180 and Homeboy Industries are more likely to meet those immediately leaving incarceration. Project180's mission is to turn around lives and prevent recidivism with comprehensive reentry programs, tailored to each person's behavioral health and other support needed. Homeboy Industries, famous for their bakery staffed by former gang members, has a host of programs that include mental health services for their trainees. The 18-month gang rehabilitation program partners with L.A. County parole division, Sheriff's Department and board of supervisors, to name a few.

All three programs aim to reduce recidivism. For example, within three years of release, adult felons in the state of California have a 61% recidivism rate. Los Angeles County has a 50% rate of returning to prison within three years, according to the last report published on the California department of corrections and rehabilitation website in 2014.

Continued on USC Storyspace...


Daily deadline text

WILL USC CHANGE HOW IT REVIEWS SEXUAL MISCONDUCT?

The university's community weighs in on the Trump administration's plans to eliminate Obama-era Title IX regulations.

Sept. 25, 2017

 U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaking at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland on February 23, 2017  / Gage Skidmore

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaking at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland on February 23, 2017  / Gage Skidmore

It may become harder for universities to expel someone suspected of sexual assault if proposals announced on Friday by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos become law. The proposed regulations will let colleges amend the standard of proof needed from "preponderance of evidence" – meaning the evidence is more convincing and has probable truth or accuracy – to the higher standard of "clear and convincing evidence."

Some on USC's campus believe the policy change proposed by DeVos is a good thing.

Armaan Premjee, a junior at USC studying business administration, was accused by another student of sexual assault in a dorm last summer. The L.A. County Superior Court dismissed Premjee's case on July 23. In the transcript of the ruling, the judge cited lack of evidence that the act had actually occurred, said the evidence did not lead to reasonable cause of strong suspicion, and believed that consent throughout the incidents of the case were reasons for dismissal.

Premjee is under investigation with the Title IX office at USC.

"I don't like the regulations set by the Obama administration," he said. "I'm glad they're being reformed because Title IX currently uses a lower standard of proof. Students can be proven innocent in court, but still be expelled or suspended from the university. I think that that's a very unfair process. We're basically making schools and administrators into judges and juries."

On the other side of the issue is Ellen Ford, a master's student studying specialized journalism with a focus on the arts. She is a survivor of sexual assault. Her experience was life-threatening, resulting in hospitalization and surgery.

"It really is a cultural thing," Ford said. "That should come from the way that we interact with each other as people, in my personal opinion. USC and the government obviously can put in these measures that say, 'Don't rape people.' It can only go so far if our society isn't treating each other with respect."

In a press release, DeVos said, "This interim guidance will help schools as they work to combat sexual misconduct and will treat all students fairly." "Schools must continue to confront these horrific crimes and behaviors head-on. There will be no more sweeping them under the rug. But the process also must be fair and impartial, giving everyone more confidence in its outcomes."

She said that the Trump administration would overturn guidelines enacted by the Obama administration in 2011 and 2014.

"The [previous guidelines] ignored notice and comment requirements, created a system that lacked basic elements of due process and failed to ensure fundamental fairness," DeVos' department added in the press release.

From a survivor's point of view, Ford believes the preponderance of evidence, or lower standard of proof, is extremely important.

"It's already so difficult to come forward with this," she said. "It's embarrassing and it's hard to tell people and talk about this. That is enough of a burden."

Ginger Clark, professor of clinical education at USC Rossier School of Education and an expert on sexual abuse and counseling, thinks there are better ways to address the issue.

"Given the statistics on false accusations of sexual assault, which are low, the amount of real estate she devoted to talking about the oppression of the accused was disturbing," Clark said, referring to DeVos. "Yes, the accused have and deserve the right to due process, and should be assumed not responsible until proven otherwise. Yes, many systems are inherently flawed, and need improvement. There is no question. But her speech did not engender faith that her intention was the improve the system."

"It sounded more like an effort to bring us back to a time when it was assumed that accusations of rape are really attempts to get revenge or rehabilitate one's reputation. An extremely damaging and outdated position to take, given what we know about campus sexual assault today."

So, what does this mean for USC and other universities?

A Q&A issued by DeVos states that schools will have the discretion to apply either the current "preponderance of evidence" standard or the "clear and convincing evidence" measure.

USC Provost Michael Quick recently emailed the community an update on Title IX, the legal guidelines prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex, including the regulations that establish that schools must address sexual misconduct if they receive any form of federal funds.

The memo on Sept. 8 was in response to rumors that the Department of Education was going to eliminate some regulations. It said that USC will continue to take the issue of sexual misconduct seriously. "…This university will not tolerate sexual misconduct in any form, whether it is sexual violence, abuse, stalking, intimate partner violence, harassment, or discrimination," the university emphasized.

The provost's memo also stated that the USC will "continually review federal guidelines as well as California state law in determining modifications to our policies."

The memo did not state how possible changes to Title IX regulations could modify existing policies.

As a private institution, USC has its own policies when it comes to on-campus sexual misconduct. As of today, the policy states that the standard of proof is in line with the Obama-era regulations. That is, based on all the evidence, the university will rule on the likelihood of whether the accused person committed the sexual misconduct.

Clark believes it's not only policies, but cultural changes that will make a difference in California universities.

"My belief is that we need far more focus on prevention than we have had," she said. "Perhaps the threat of moving backwards will stimulate conversations about how to enhance prevention through culture change, and how to improve adjudication systems at the same time."

USC's Title IX office would not immediately comment on the DeVos announcement. The provost's communications director said Quick would not be putting out a statement regarding Title IX on Monday.


audio/radio

"Annenberg Media" Monday radio program

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VideO

A 15-minute documentary about lowriding: A famous custom lowrider painter who has been lowriding since he was a kid, his employee in the dawn of her career and a prominent Sacramento lowrider talk about stereotypes, their stories of lowriding and the future of the lifestyle.

You can view the entire "Slow and Low" capstone here (best in Google Chrome).