Further overhauling its troubled juvenile detention facilities, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has approved a series of moves, including the relocation of most juvenile detainees, upgrades to most facilities and asking the sheriff’s department to deploy volunteer reserve deputies to help fill holes in staffing.
“Since the reserves undergo the same hiring standards as a full-time deputy, (the Probation Department) is seeking to deploy them to supplement the sworn staff assigned to the juvenile halls contingent upon training to adapt reserves’ existing practices and skills to comply with Probation and state policies regulations, contingent upon County Counsel’s assessment of legally permissive,” county CEO Fesia Davenport wrote in a letter to the board outlining the proposed moves. The deputy deployment idea found little public favor.
“Why should the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department watch over our children? Will we have deputy gangs in charge of them?” Ambrose Brooks of the group Dignity and Power Now told the board Tuesday.
The ACLU of Southern California also decried the move, noting on its Twitter page that it is suing the sheriff’s department “because of its failure to provide adequate care or safety to people in L.A. jails.”
“It is a shameful and dangerous idea to think sheriff’s deputies can take care of youth in L.A. juvenile halls,” according to the ACLU.
The moves approved by the board on Tuesday, May 2, without discussion are the latest steps by the county to address its troubled juvenile justice system, which has been under fire from state leaders and regulators. State Attorney General Rob Bonta recently slammed the condition of the juvenile halls as “appalling” and filed court papers seeking to force the county remedy “illegal and unsafe” conditions. A hearing on that matter is scheduled for May 9. That state Board of State and Community Corrections, meanwhile, has scheduled a hearing for May 23 to consider possibly ordering the shutdown of the county’s juvenile halls altogether due to lack of compliance with state regulations.
The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, May 2, approved a series of steps Davenport recommended in her letter. Davenport wrote in her letter that the Probation Department “has determined it is necessary to move all predisposition youth to Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall, operate Central Juvenile Hall as a law enforcement intake unit and medical and diagnostic/assessment hub, and house only Secure Youth Treatment Facility (SYTF) youth at Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall to ensure optimal and constitutional levels of care for Probation youth. … Probation’s plan will better leverage existing facilities and available staff and resources to improve conditions and care for Probation youth, while flexing up temporary staff and other resources.”
The plan outlined by Davenport also included the readjustment of millions of dollars for capital improvements at the juvenile halls, with overall costs anticipated to reach nearly $50 million. In a statement Wednesday, May 3, Guillermo Viera Rosa, chief strategist for juvenile operations at the county Probation Department, said the moves will “put the safety and welfare of our youth at the center of our efforts.”
“As we wipe the slate clean, we’re leaving behind a traditional, incremental approach that has bred distrust and confusion,” Rosa said. “Instead, we are embracing radical change — change that I’m convinced will demonstrably improve the care that our youth receive, the accountability the public demands and the professionalism the state requires.”
The county Board of Supervisors has been struggling to overhaul the troubled juvenile justice system even as it prepares to assume responsibility for youth being transferred to counties from the state’s soon-to-close Juvenile Justice facilities. The board recently voted to advance a “Global Plan” for the placement and care of juvenile detainees, with a goal of reducing the number of juveniles in custody and development of Secure Youth Treatment Facilities to provide a more supportive environment for detained youth. But while those plans have been slowly advancing, the juvenile detention system and the Probation Department that oversees it have been routinely under fire from state regulators over conditions at the facilities.
In March of last year, about 140 juvenile detainees were hastily transferred from Central Juvenile Hall in Lincoln Heights to Barry J. Nidorf hall in Sylmar — a move that the county inspector general later concluded was orchestrated to avert a state inspection that appeared likely to fail. Late last year, nearly 300 boys and girls filed a lawsuit alleging they were sexually assaulted, harassed and abused by county probation and detention officers while being held at juvenile facilities dating back to the 1970s. Davenport noted while releasing her recent budget proposal for the coming year that the county could potentially face liabilities reaching $3 billion from such abuse claims.
In March, the Board of Supervisors fired Probation Department Chief Adofo Gonzales, with board Chair Janice Hahn noting that the juvenile halls “are in crisis.” Karen Fletcher, the interim probation chief, said she plans to retire May 19.