Editorial: The original LA model of juvenile justice: delay, disaster, dishonor

Editorial: The original LA model of juvenile justice: delay, disaster, dishonor

Central Juvenile Hall near downtown Los Angeles, pictured here in 2022, is one of two troubled juvenile holding facilities currently in operation. LA County supervisors are considering whether to reopen a third. (Brian van der Brugge/Los Angeles Times)

In Los Angeles County’s troubled juvenile halls and probation camps, it’s sometimes hard to distinguish between impending rescue and impending downfall. For example, the Probation Department is transferring 100 less-experienced officers from the field to supplement a juvenile hall staff depleted by vacancies, injuries, fear and disdain for management so depleted that barely 11% of officers show up to work.

Also, 16 “Trusted messenger” — trained volunteers who have spent time under preteen or adolescent entry jurisdictions, or who have other relevant experience — are dangerous Barry J. of Sylmar this week. Niedorf will report to Juvenile Hall and Kilpatrick, the new, safer, but still struggling campus in Malibu. To give young offenders the benefit of their experience. These are being re-sent to the county Directorate of Youth DevelopmentIt was originally envisioned as an agency that could take over all of Probation’s juvenile operations as early as 2025. Currently, this transition does not appear to be happening

Sylmar’s condition (almost universally known to probation workers, youth and families as Barry Jay). Officers work nearly 24-hour shifts for their missing colleagues, leaving them exhausted and short-tempered. Classes and activities are often canceled because teachers and contract service providers are afraid to come. Interior walls are covered in graffiti, windows are broken, residences are littered. Teenagers accused of crimes and awaiting court hearings have nothing to do every day but play video games or — because security is lax despite razor wire, guards and X-ray machines — get high on illegal substances that somehow find their way inside. Earlier this month, at least two teenagers overdosed on fentanyl in Barry Jay and were administered Narcan.

The situation is little better at Central Juvenile Hall near downtown, where youths accused of crimes like Barry Jay are held, protected and educated for weeks while they await their court dates. In fact, some young adults stay as long as two years.

Problems also plague a handful of probation camps — facilities like Campus Kilpatrick in less-traumatic settings where juveniles are committed by courts to longer periods of rehabilitation and treatment. The Board of Supervisors ordered Kilpatrick to rebuild from the ground up to accommodate a new format of care based on small group settings and consistent staff consultation. County officials proudly tout their program LA model. But it was never envisioned because it was inconsistent with labor contracts that required work schedules designed for officers rather than teenagers.

The crisis has been exacerbated by an influx of young offenders from the Department of Juvenile Justice, part of California’s prison system. The state is getting out of the juvenile justice business on July 1, returning more challenging cases to the county The board of supervisors had time to prepare for the change last year but spent it poorly, squabbling over whose district would house the transferred juveniles.

Tuesday, the Supervisors fired Chief Probation Officer Adolfo Gonzales and briefly entertain a Series of instructions Intended to prevent chaos in the halls and camps, but they put off negotiations for two weeks. A plan that could be timed a year earlier includes temporarily reopening a third juvenile hall — the currently vacant Los Padrinos in Downey — to ease pressure on the Barry J. Companion proposal, which includes various relocations and remodeling. But the situation was allowed to deteriorate to a point where teenagers and staff were in danger and facilities were crumbling.

The county’s incarcerated youth population has declined, and the greatly reduced caseload should be an opportunity to improve rehabilitation programs for the most difficult juveniles. Instead, having fewer cases has somehow translated into neglected care, absent staff, and organizational disaster.

“We’re lucky no one died,” Probation Oversight Commissioner Millie Kakani said at a meeting Thursday. “If we rely on luck, we don’t have much left.”

At the same meeting, Interim Chief Probation Officer Karen Fletcher told the commission — which along with Gonzales called for her resignation earlier this month — that the department is committed to hiring LA models in every hall and camp. But that’s the original L.A. model: a foot-dragging board of supervisors, incomplete standards, long timelines — and indiscriminate treatment of youth placed in the county’s care by the courts.

The Probation Department is now investigating Board of State and Community Correctionswhich one has Power to revoke permission to operate juvenile facilities and subject to a 2021 settlement with the State Department of Justice, which found alarming failures in detention conditions and education. Intervention is needed.

But it is worth remembering that one Settlement with US Department of Justice Short-lived improvements caused by similar deficits more than a decade ago led to a return to dysfunction. If state oversight fails to impose lasting improvements, the feds will have little choice but to return, this time with civil rights action and a consent decree, and much less tolerance for objections from probation officers and county supervisors.

This story was originally published by Los Angeles Times.

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