State OKs Proposal to Ease Crowding at County Juvenile Hall

Times Staff Writer

The California Youth Authority has approved the Orange County Probation Department's three-part plan to reduce chronic overcrowding in Juvenile Hall within 60 days, officials said Friday.

Chief Probation Officer Michael D. Schumacher said the plan includes adding beds at Los Pinos Forestry Camp near Lake Elsinore, using a portion of the soon-to-be-vacated Albert Sitton Home next door in the City of Orange and expanding a home-supervision program for juvenile offenders awaiting trial.

Superior Court Judge James R. Franks II said an alternative sentencing program that would allow low-risk juvenile defendants to serve their time in community service programs also will be explored.

Population Hit 362

"We've accepted the plan and we will look at the situation in 60 days," CYA spokesman Art German said Friday in Sacramento. Although Juvenile Hall, located in a county complex on The City Drive, is designed to hold a maximum of 314 boys and girls under 18 years of age, on Friday the population was reported at 362, with most youths doubling up in single rooms. The average count has been 325 to 330 since January.

When juvenile detention facilities exceed capacity for more than 20 consecutive days, they are subject by law to state decertification. The CYA threatened to decertify Orange County Juvenile Hall in 1974 and again in 1975 for exceeding its capacity.

German said the plan, approved Thursday at a meeting between state and county officials, signaled a new CYA policy of working with counties to alleviate chronic overcrowding, a problem not unique to Orange County.

'Try to Work With Them'

"Sometimes (state sanctions) are counterproductive," German said. "It's a recognition that counties can only do what is possible . . . not bludgeon them into building new facilities. So we try to work with them on what is possible. There are a lot of counties with more serious problems than Orange County. We are also trying to work out some corrective measures with Los Angeles (County)."

German said juvenile detention facilities in Los Angeles, San Diego and Riverside counties--among others throughout the state--are bursting at the seams. On Feb. 28, all three Los Angeles County juvenile detention halls had populations well above capacity, he said.

"Obviously, Los Angeles County has more massive problems than anyplace else," German said. "But they've all got problems. It's chronic."

Schumacher said the department plans to add 16 beds to the 80-bed Los Pinos camp. He hopes to have access to a 20-bed dormitory at Sitton when Orangewood, the county's new $7.5-million emergency shelter for children, is completed by early June.

Released to Homes

Additionally, Schumacher said he plans to expand the number of youths who are released to their homes under a "kind of house-arrest program" while awaiting trial from about 75 to 100. The program requires intense monitoring by deputy probation officers who handle no more than 10 youths each.

"We are also considering sentencing to a community work program, designed for marginal cases that could otherwise warrant custody in Juvenile Hall," Judge Franks said.

Schumacher said expansion of Los Pinos, the move into Sitton and a realignment of deputy probation officers to monitor youths under home supervision and community work programs can be accomplished with the Probation Department's existing budget.

"The situation now (at Juvenile Hall) is not a crisis, and everyone at the hall, the Youth Authority and the court is monitoring it carefully," Franks said. "The problem will be solved and the number of kids reduced."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World