A new county report on Los Angeles County's Central Juvenile Hall depicts it as a leaderless operation with "unacceptable" and "deplorable" conditions similar to a "Third World country prison."
Some walls were covered in gang graffiti and filth that no one made an effort to wash away. Morale among staffers was at "dungeon lows from a workforce that claims to be victims."
And young detainees were sent into isolation for reasons outside of department policy — in one case for exchanging food with another detainee, the report alleges.
The report was written by Azael "Sal" Martinez, a volunteer probation department monitor who spent time incarcerated at juvenile hall as a teenager.
Martinez has since become a well-regarded Boyle Heights community leader. Supervisor Hilda Solis appointed him to the 15-member Probation Commission and asked him to report on the county's aging network of three juvenile halls and 18 camps.
His assessment of Central Juvenile Hall in Boyle Heights is the most withering by far.
Interim Probation Chief Cal Remington said he is investigating the report's findings and will have a public response on how to correct the problems soon. "Clearly there are issues that I need to deal with," he said.
Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich's spokesman, Tony Bell, said, "We are investigating the serious allegations concerning staff accountability, condition of the facilities and the misuse of solitary confinement."
Supervisors voted in November to begin studying how to replace the more than century-old facility with a modern infrastructure.
In the meantime, the 200 young people housed at Central Juvenile Hall are sometimes placed in units with no running water except in staff bathrooms, Martinez wrote.
"What can't be shaken is the stench emitting from the unit and rooms due to urinals broken, backed up, not cleaned and unsanitary," Martinez said. "When the minors use the urinals ... the urine.. . splashed back on their shoes and pants."
"It appears that no one cares. Staff does not know who is in charge and are quick to push the blame elsewhere," Martinez wrote.
The findings come at a time when the department is under increased scrutiny for the quality of its services. A county audit recently found that the average cost of incarcerating a youth has soared to $233,600 a year, significantly higher than other comparable jurisdictions across the country. Experts are struggling to understand the reasons behind the high cost.
Martinez's findings challenge the department's assertion that it is making progress in the halls.
As recently as last year, former Probation Chief Jerry Powers celebrated when the county finally emerged from oversight by the U.S. Department of Justice for mistreatment of youths.
But Martinez wrote in his report that staffers "are complacent and feel that there will be no accountability and everything went back to the way it has operated for years."
Cyn Yamashiro, a former Loyola law professor and member of the Probation Commission, said Martinez's report is being taken seriously.
Yamashiro said he could not speak for the commission, but he noted that Martinez's scrutiny of the department's use of solitary confinement extended out of a broader concern among juvenile justice advocates that the department has poorly documented when and how isolation is used.
In recent years, 19 states and the District of Columbia have ended the practice of isolating detainees younger than 18. New York City went one step further and banned solitary confinement for Rikers Island inmates up to age 21.
Remington said he expects Los Angeles County to follow suit within a year because of the public pressure to ban the practice.
"It is obvious that no child should ever be put in solitary confinement for a minor infraction, and that the children in our custody have a right to humane treatment and basic sanitary conditions. I am troubled by the allegations in this report" Solis said in a statement.