L.A. County juvenile detention halls are ‘suitable’ for housing youths, for now
A state corrections board decided Thursday that Los Angeles County’s juvenile halls are “suitable” to house youths after previous inspections had placed the facilities in danger of closing.
The Board of State and Community Corrections had given the county 60 days to remediate issues at Central Juvenile Hall in Los Angeles and Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar, or be forced to move about 250 youths elsewhere.
But even as the board determined that the issues, including delayed health evaluations, had been addressed, it raised concerns that youths were being locked in their cells for excessive periods.
Board staff “heard from youths who reported that at times they were being placed in their locked rooms in their units for long periods of time after fights, during visiting, before and during showers, and at shift change,” said Allison Ganter, the board’s deputy director.
Ganter said the county probation department didn’t document these instances because they were either considered brief or part of normal operations.
After reviewing videos and interviewing workers and youths, board staff found that most of the confinements did violate regulations, Ganter said.
L.A. County district attorney looks into alleged beating by staff at Sylmar juvenile hall
Los Angeles County’s perennially troubled Probation Department is under scrutiny again over an alleged beating of a youth by staff at a county juvenile hall, which was captured on video.
Young people have since reported that the situation has improved, Ganter said.
The county has until Dec. 14 to submit a corrective action plan.
In addition to youths not being evaluated by health workers within four days of admission, the previous violations that were remedied included poor record keeping for youths who were taking psychotropic medicine.
Board Chair Linda Penner said that L.A. County seems to improve its juvenile facilities only when under investigation.
“I wish I could tell you it was simple and this would be the period at the end of the sentence, but I don’t know,” she said.
Officers engaged in inappropriate and avoidable uses of pepper spray to subdue detainees in Los Angeles County juvenile detention facilities in recent years, sometimes violating their own rules mandating its use as a last resort, according to a report issued Monday.
L.A. County Chief Probation Officer Adolfo Gonzales was unavailable for an interview Thursday.
In a statement, the agency said it has worked hard to improve, including by increasing training and adding staffing.
“The Probation Department’s new leadership team is committed to the ensuring that youth in the Halls are healthy and safe, and will continue to work to make positive changes and provide healthier and safer communities,” the statement read.
At Thursday’s board meeting, L.A. County Probation Department Deputy Chief Karen Fletcher said policy changes have resulted in room confinement being avoided in 145 instances in the last month or so, with youths placed in “cool-down rooms” instead.
“That is really about providing a more therapeutic approach, a more evidence-based approach to serving the youth in our care,” Fletcher said.
L.A. County Supervisor Hilda L. Solis said in a statement that she was pleased about the suitability determination and hoped the changes would be “permanent fixes, not temporary solutions.”
“It is a priority of mine that we ensure [youth in our care] are treated with utmost care as we concurrently prepare them to return back to their communities and homes,” said Solis, who chairs the board.
In recent years, the supervisors have pushed a “care first” model for incarcerated children and adults.
Last November, they approved the eventual dismantling of the county’s juvenile probation system in favor of a new agency that will focus on emotional support, counseling and treatment.
This transition will probably mean an end to L.A. County’s juvenile halls and camps — prison-like settings with an infamous past.
Six Los Angeles County juvenile detention officers were charged with assault and child abuse Friday for using pepper spray on several teenage girls last year.
In January, the county reached a settlement agreement with the California attorney general’s office to improve conditions at juvenile facilities.
The attorney general’s investigation found that detention officers unnecessarily used pepper spray. Youths were confined in cells for long periods, preventing them from receiving medical care and attending classes, the investigation found.
The investigation also found that youths were urinating into milk cartons because probation staff wouldn’t let them out of their cells to use a restroom.
On Wednesday, Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascon unveiled a new diversion program aimed at keeping first-time offenders out of the beleaguered juvenile halls.
The pilot program, which will serve about a dozen teens at first, will give nonviolent first-time offenders a chance to make amends to their victims, rather than go through a criminal prosecution.
Times staff writer James Queally contributed to this report.
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