Santa Clarita city officials and residents said Monday they are filing a legal challenge to Los Angeles County’s plan to house juvenile offenders at a probation camp in the city, saying the facility would endanger the community.
The legal action stems from a hotly contested vote taken by the county Board of Supervisors in mid-March, in which it selected three probation camps to house and provide rehabilitative services for juvenile offenders who would ordinarily be sent to state youth prisons. The state is closing all of its youth prisons, shifting responsibility to individual counties for housing post-trial juvenile offenders at “Secure Youth Track Facilities.”
The Board of Supervisors voted to house male offenders at Camp Kilpatrick in Malibu and Camp Scott in Santa Clarita, with female offenders designated for Camp Kirby in Commerce. The county plans to develop facilities at all three locations that are focused on treatment, education and re-entry programs to help rehabilitate youth offenders, rather than simply incarcerating them in a juvenile hall.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger was the lone dissenting vote, saying she wanted the county to house all of the offenders at Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar, which is already set to undergo major renovations due to concerns outlined by state regulators.
At a news conference outside Camp Scott Monday, Santa Clarita residents, Mayor Laurene Weste and other officials denounced plans to house youth at the facility, insisting it is in need of an extensive overhaul, necessitating a full environmental review. They also argued it will put residents at risk from potentially violent young offenders, and claimed the facility is vulnerable to brush fires and flooding.
“Camp Scott is completely unsuitable for this use,” Weste said. She also backed the use of Nidorf to house the youth.
During the March vote, Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said the Nidorf facility “has become like an adult prison,” and called it unsuitable for prolonged housing of juvenile offenders. She also criticized those who have characterized youth offenders as “animals who cannot be rehabilitated.”
Kuehl called Camp Scott in Santa Clarita an ideal choice for housing because it is vacant, already has single-person rooms, and can be quickly renovated and upgraded at a rehabilitation facility. She rejected the description of the property as “dilapidated.”
Barger issued a statement Monday in response to the Santa Clarita legal action, saying she was not surprised by the move
“I voted against housing juvenile offenders at Camp Scott because I backed the recommendations made by our Probation Department’s experts,” Barger said. “These are the individuals hired by our board to oversee and help these youth, and they clearly came to the conclusion that Nidorf Juvenile Hall is the better option. This matter continues to be very important to me. I will closely track the discussion and developments set in motion by the city’s lawsuit.”
The county’s probation staff is expected to return to the board later this year with a plan for renovating the three camps. Under the county’s plan, the Nidorf and Central juvenile halls — both of which have come under fire from state regulators for lax conditions — will be used only to house youth awaiting disposition in court or transfer to other facilities.