Second Sylmar juvenile hall employee gets coronavirus; more youths under quarantine

The Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar, where dozens of youths are quarantined.
The Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar, where dozens of youths are now under quarantine.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

A second L.A County Probation Department employee who works inside a Sylmar juvenile hall has tested positive for COVID-19, raising the number of children quarantined in the facility to several dozen, officials said.

In a news release on Monday, the department said 22 youths who live in the unit where the employee worked had been separated from the rest of the facility’s population.

None of the youths at the facility are symptomatic, and their parents and guardians have been notified of the exposure, the department said. The employee, now under quarantine at home, last worked at the facility on Sunday.

“Probation is doing its best to provide the personal protective equipment necessary to keep all staff and youth healthy,” the department said in the release. “Juvenile Court Health Services are closely monitoring the health of the youths that may have been exposed to the staff members testing positive [by] performing health checks twice a day.”

On April 1, the department made its first announcement of an employee, who worked in a separate unit in the hall, having tested positive for the coronavirus infection. When that previous employee fell ill, 21 youths at the unit where the officer worked were put under quarantine. According to the department, those youths are still in separate living quarters and are not displaying symptoms of infection from the virus.


In recent weeks, a public defender assigned to the Sylmar Juvenile Courthouse also tested positive for the virus, leading officials to close the courthouse for several days. The courthouse is attached to the Nidorf Juvenile Hall. The public defender contracted the virus after caring for a relative who had also tested positive, a news release issued by the Los Angeles County Superior Court said.

So far, the Probation Department has not reported any positive cases of the virus among its detained youths. Two youths in L.A. County juvenile custody had been tested for the virus as of Friday, but neither had a positive test result, according to Kathleen Piche, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health Services. A separate juvenile was also quarantined after “exhibiting symptoms” consistent with the virus, though it was not immediately clear if that juvenile had been tested.

The news of a second probation employee who has tested positive follows growing concern among advocates and parents that juveniles in detention are at risk of contracting the virus.

Los Angeles County detention centers have barred in-person family visits and those of community-based organizations. Advocates are also worried that incarceration during the pandemic — as well as isolation or quarantine in their rooms — could also endanger children’s mental health because of the prolonged separation from their families.

Advocates and defense attorneys have called for the release of all juveniles awaiting trial or being held on technical probation violations. But attempts to enact a broad release of juvenile inmates in Los Angeles County have been blocked by court officials. L.A. County Superior Court Judge John C. Lawson, who oversees Delinquency Court, has said that juvenile releases will continue to be determined on a case-by-case analysis, depending on the youth’s conduct and performance during custody programs.

The Probation Department has maintained that it is taking precautions to prevent the spread of the virus. Adam Wolfson, communications director for the department, has said that probation officers are limiting the congregation of youths to groups of six or fewer, having them shower individually, and staggering meal times to prevent large groups from gathering in mess halls.

But a recent letter sent to the L.A. County Department of Public Health by a number of defense attorneys and criminal justice reform groups expressed concern that social distancing was not being enforced by probation officers who oversee the children.

A probation officer, who requested anonymity to be able to speak freely about the department, told the Los Angeles Times that during a recent work shift at the Sylmar juvenile hall he observed a failure to practice social distancing.

“The kids are not practicing any type of social distancing, the staff are not being provided with masks, latex gloves or any kind of decontamination [supplies],” he said.