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Chaos in L.A. County’s juvenile halls and what it means for incarcerated kids

A brick building with barbed wire across the top.
Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)
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Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Tuesday, Nov. 29. I’m Ryan Fonseca.

Los Angeles County’s system for incarcerated young people is in disarray. A new investigation from Times reporter James Queally reveals that major staffing shortages in juvenile halls in the last eight months have resulted in more fights among youths, increased use of force by detention officers and a slew of resignations.

The county’s probation department runs two juvenile hall facilities and a number of camps. Dozens of officers at the two main facilities are on leave or refusing to come to work, many citing unsafe conditions. That’s only amplified the chaos and has led to more lockdowns, which confines youths to their rooms, denied schooling and recreation.

Those lockdowns can last up to 24 hours. The increased isolation, lack of supportive structure and violence are having detrimental effects on youths’ mental health. James said one incarcerated minor told him he didn’t feel he was being “treated like a human being,” adding:

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“You’re sitting in a box all day, so it’s just bottled-up emotions that’s ready to explode.”

James, who covers crime and policing for The Times, spent several months reporting this complex and sensitive story.

“Writing about any carceral setting is a challenge because your access is limited,” he told me this week. “You’re effectively writing about things you can’t see.”

The reporting becomes even more difficult when it’s about minors, he explained:

“You can’t identify them and, for the most part, sharing their specific complaints or frustrations or anecdotes risks them getting singled out by officers or other youths in custody.”

I asked James what most stood out to him in reporting this story, especially since incarcerated children are at the center. He pointed to the disruption in services these kids are experiencing, particularly when classes get canceled or education employees refuse to come in to teach.

“Juvenile detention is meant to be for a rehabilitative purpose, not a punitive one,” he said. “It’s hard to imagine youths in L.A. County are getting the services they need to thrive after release when lockdowns limit their access to schooling, therapy, recreation, etc.”

I wondered if the conditions in L.A. County’s juvenile halls are common elsewhere in the state. Based on James’ interview with Linda Penner, the head of California’s Board of State and Community Corrections and the former head of Fresno County’s Probation Department, not really.

“[She] said very plainly to me in an interview that the situation in L.A. County’s juvenile halls has no comparison in the rest of the state of California,” James told me.

Times subscribers can read the full story online.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing.

L.A. STORIES

I love looking at old houses, and L.A.'s Angelino Heights neighborhood is full of them. The array of homes says a lot about the city’s rich architectural history. Plus there are pop culture landmarks, such as the house from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” music video. LAist

It’s chilly in L.A. The metro area is expected to see lows in the 40s by Wednesday morning, the coldest point in this week’s cold snap, according to forecasters. On the heels of the cold air mass — late Thursday or Friday — a “significant storm system” is expected to roll in, bringing an inch or two of rain and around 4 inches in the mountains. Los Angeles Times

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These days, waking up to current events can be, well, daunting. If you’re seeking a more balanced news diet, “The Times” podcast is for you. Gustavo Arellano, along with a diverse set of reporters from the award-winning L.A. Times newsroom, delivers the most interesting stories from the Los Angeles Times every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

San Francisco’s Great Highway could remain car-free, part time, through 2025. The city closed the roadway at the start of the pandemic, along with JFK Drive, to give residents more space for recreation while social distancing. It reopened to cars on weekdays in August 2021. But voters overwhelmingly rejected a measure to reopen it to cars 24/7. Now a Board of Supervisors committee is proposing extending the car-free hours. San Francisco Chronicle

Karen Bass made an atypical move. The Los Angeles mayor-elect invited all staffers in Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office to remain on through April. The decision is a result of a super-tight timeline for Bass to take office — which itself is an unintended result of changing voting methods: Mail-in ballots take longer to process and count. Los Angeles Times

Columnist Gustavo Arellano looks at what Rick Caruso spent on his failed mayoral bid and what that $104,848,887.43 could have bought instead. Such as: 14,964,028 Dodger Dogs. Los Angeles Times

CRIME, COURTS AND POLICING

Warning: The holiday season brings out the Grinches. The peak capitalism blizzard of white-knuckle shopping, enticing sales and solicitations for charity is a perfect climate for scammers. Jon Healey, senior editor with The Times’ Utility Journalism team, has some tips for how to spot scams and avoid getting conned. Here’s one: Be wary of emails telling you to “click here” to track a package you’re eagerly waiting for — it could be a link to malware that leaves your personal data out in the cold. Los Angeles Times

“Um, I need help.” A boy called 911 from the car his father was driving, saying his dad was headed to Vegas and “acting weird.” The 12-year-old directed Highway Patrol dispatchers to their location as his father, wearing a Raiders helmet, steered erratically across the freeway. A dispatcher praised the boy as both calm and brave. Los Angeles Times

Details behind a “catfishing” and the killings of three people in Riverside. It’s a tragic story. Police say a 28-year-old law enforcement officer from Virginia catfished a teenage girl online — meaning he used a fake profile as a lure — then came to her house and killed three of her family members. He was later killed by police. Los Angeles Times

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HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Rising rates of RSV are stretching children’s hospitals thin all over the Golden State. Cases are surging and beds are running low at hospitals in Santa Clara, Los Angeles and Orange counties. And as if the triple whammy of RSV, coronavirus and the seasonal flu weren’t enough, UC San Francisco notes a rise in other viral illnesses, like metapneumovirus — dubbed MPV — and parainfluenza. A mask makes a great gift for the whole family this holiday season. Los Angeles Times

New rules mean nurse practitioners will be allowed to practice without physician supervision. California’s nursing agency recently OKd the move, which aims to expand access to care in the state amid widespread workforce shortages in healthcare. It’s something nurse practitioners in the state have been working toward for years. CalMatters

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

A person wearing a mask waves a rainbow pride flag in front of a theater.
Ronnie Cassis raises a gay pride flag in front of the Tower Theater in Fresno.
(Tomas Ovalle / For The Times)

In the wake of the fatal mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colo., LGBTQ residents in California’s redder counties say it’s a reminder of the difficulties queer people face for existing in conservative spaces. “There’s no safe place anywhere,” one resident from Redding told Times reporter Hailey Branson-Potts. “It doesn’t matter where we are or what we do. People are going to come for us.” Los Angeles Times

For Black Hollywood, the infamous slap at the 2022 Academy Awards still stings. In the aftermath of Will Smith’s televised assault on Chris Rock, how will Smith’s upcoming film, “Emancipation,” be received by his peers and moviegoers? Times writer Greg Braxton spoke with several influential Black creatives about how they’re navigating those complexities. Los Angeles Times

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CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: sunny, 66. San Diego: decreasing clouds, 63. San Francisco: sunny, 58. San Jose: patchy frost and patchy fog then sunny, 58. Fresno: patchy fog and then sunny, 55. Sacramento: areas of frost then sunny, 58.

AND FINALLY

Today’s California memory is from Rick DeGolia:

I grew up in Long Beach close to the ocean. One of my best memories is looking east on a clear day (there weren’t too many in the ’60s) and seeing Mt. Baldy sticking up into the clouds. It was both beautiful and tantalizing. Then one August my parents took my brother and me to stay in a cabin on Mt. Baldy next to a little creek. Up the road was the Mt. Baldy ski hill. We learned to ski that week, skiing down the slope on straw. I have no recollection of how that worked. It feels painful now, but we definitely learned to ski, so we had a blast.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments to essentialcalifornia@latimes.com.


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