After reports of chaos in L.A. juvenile halls, state officials visit two facilities

Officials from the California Department of Justice on Thursday visited two of Los Angeles County’s troubled juvenile halls — a sign that conditions inside the facilities are drawing the attention of state monitors.

The officials toured Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar, where staff complaints and damage caused by detainees were the subject of a story in The Times on Sunday. The officials spent the morning at the facility with detention supervisors and county lawyers before heading to the Central Juvenile Hall, northeast of downtown L.A., about lunchtime.

A shattered window at Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar, one of two L.A. County juvenile detention centers visited by state Department of Justice officials Thursday.
(Joe Gardner / L.A. County Probation Commission)

The details of the visits were not made public.


Officials with the state Department of Justice declined to comment. “To protect its integrity, we can’t comment on a potential or ongoing investigation,” spokeswoman Bethany Lesser said.

A spokesman for the county’s Probation Department, which operates the network of 10 juvenile halls and camps, initially referred questions to the other agencies involved but later issued a statement downplaying the visits.

“The county and probation have been acutely focused on reform in juvenile services and have been engaging with the California attorney general’s office for several months about the progress that has been made and the challenges that still exist,” spokesman Adam Wolfson said.

“The previously scheduled tour today is an aspect of those ongoing discussions. The department and the county have remained open and collaborative with the attorney general’s office and we welcome their input and feedback as we all are focused on safe and rehabilitative juvenile facilities.”

Wolfson said the department was told about the visits in early May.

Detention service officers, who discussed the tour with The Times on the condition of anonymity, said they were surprised to see the state officials Thursday.

The state officials were accompanied by county lawyers, including Rodrigo Castro-Silva, who until recently was L.A. County’s interim inspector general. Before returning to his previous job as a senior member of the county counsel’s office, Castro-Silva had taken an interest in juvenile detention issues, testifying before the county Probation Reform and Implementation Team. Earlier this year, staffers from the inspector general’s office documented what they said was an excessive use of pepper spray by detention officers inside the juvenile halls.

Overall, it’s unclear precisely what prompted the visits on Thursday, but they come weeks after staff members complained to the county’s Probation Commission — a volunteer group that advises the L.A. County Board of Supervisors on department policy — about working conditions inside the Nidorf Juvenile Hall.

In addition to unruly youths, staff members have documented outbreaks of violence that have led to broken windows, damaged walls and ceilings, and gang graffiti.

The state’s Department of Justice supports law enforcement officials statewide but also investigates potential civil rights violations and children’s justice issues, among many functions. The department recently released a report, for example, reviewing the use-of-force policies, training and practices at the Sacramento Police Department.