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Opinion

Readers React: L.A. County’s chaotic juvenile halls are no place for kids to learn

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The Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar on Feb. 22.
(Los Angeles Times)

To the editor: I am a volunteer writing teacher at juvenile halls across Los Angeles County. I read with sad recognition about the turmoil occurring at Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar.

I recently had to suspend my weekly class at Nidorf due to dwindling participation. I was told by both employees and kids that escalating conflicts at Nidorf — the result in part of the transfer of juveniles from other facilities that were closing — had made getting everyone ready for the early evening class increasingly challenging.

Incidentally, the final full class I taught occurred on the evening reported in the article when a young man climbed a goal post. I walked by as the student was still up there; he asked me if I worked for a certain county agency. He was obviously having a mental health crisis, but he was also seeking help.

I hope he got that help — and that the L.A. County Probation Department gets it as well.

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Ron Shinkman, Northridge

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To the editor: Recently deceased criminologist George L. Kelling developed the theory that broken windows in a neighborhood send a signal that no one cares about property maintenance and upkeep, thus inviting further damage and possibly more serious crime.

His theory appears to be validated by the chaos and vandalism in various Los Angeles County juvenile halls. Interestingly, both Kelling’s obituary and the article on the juvenile hall problems appeared in Sunday’s print edition.

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Reading the description of the damaged windows, broken phones and graffiti-covered walls in the Nidorf juvenile hall, it is certainly evident that the county’s inability to maintain a clean and orderly facility has contributed to — and perhaps even caused — long-term, systematic vandalism. These facilities must be consistently looked after and taken care of, along with their juvenile inhabitants.

Kelling’s theory continues to be both accurate and relevant.

Marcia Goodman, Long Beach

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