Jury Paints Grim Picture of Juvenile Halls
Using words such as “filthy,” “unsightly” and “unsafe,” the Los Angeles County Grand Jury drew a bleak picture of the county’s juvenile detention camps and juvenile halls, which, it said, are desperately in need of renovation or replacement.
In an unusually harshly worded report issued Friday, the grand jury said the juvenile facilities “are at best substandard,” and called on the Board of Supervisors to invest the money to bring them up to par.
The panel said the detention centers for young people contrasted sharply with those for adults, which it generally found to be in better shape.
The county official in charge of the youth facilities, Chief Probation Officer Richard Shumsky, said he thought the grand jury had overstated the problems, but agreed that many of the camps and juvenile halls are old and badly in need of work, and that adult facilities are generally newer and better.
“There’s no doubt that juveniles in the state of California have been given short shrift,” he said. However, he said, it would cost more than $300 million to do all the work that is needed.
Shumsky also said that the state Board of Corrections, which inspects all detention centers in the state, has given the juvenile camps much higher marks than the grand jury did.
“If the Board of Corrections had the grand jury’s view, we wouldn’t be open,” he said.
The grand jury report on juvenile facilities was contained in its overall 2000 report on county governance. While other sections were relatively dry, the descriptions of detention centers stood out for their vivid descriptions and sense of outrage.
Typical of the descriptions was this one about Camp Scobee, part of the Challenger Memorial Youth Center in Lancaster:
“This camp has a large number of mentally challenged youth, and this was used as the excuse for the unsightly situation we encountered. Restrooms and barracks had urine and dirty clothing all over the floors. Bunk pads were all sliced up as if to hide things in them. There were extreme amounts of graffiti, filth was abundant, and it appeared there was little or no discipline. Health Services inspection most likely would have closed the camp.”
Another part of the same complex, the Challenger Special Housing Unit, was described as a potential death trap in an earthquake or fire. The unit has 30 young people in individual cells that would have to be opened manually in an emergency, the grand jury said. “How quickly during a 7.0 earthquake can they unlock the cells before there is loss of life?” the panel asked.
Shumsky said the unit met earthquake standards.
The grand jury used similarly strong terms to describe juvenile halls. Of Eastlake Central Juvenile Hall, the newest part of which was built in 1941, the panel wrote: “The facility can best be described as falling apart.”
Of Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall in Downey, it said: “Probation officers have to use pepper spray on a daily basis here. . . . These facilities are now 42 years old, and like others in the country, are falling apart due to lack of major yearly upkeep.”
Shumsky agreed that the facilities need replacement. He noted the county has begun a $35-million project to build a new Eastlake hall.
The grand jury did find things to praise. While it criticized some of the educational programs being run by the County Office of Education, it noted that others were doing a good job and singled out some individual teachers for high praise.
Of one facility, Camp Kilpatrick in Malibu, it observed: “The teachers and probation officers all state that once here, the youth do not want to leave.”
Several camps received ratings of “good.”
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