Following yet another state inspection that found deficiencies in operations at two critical Los Angeles County youth detention facilities, the county’s chief probation officer insisted Thursday that the agency is moving toward major improvements, but more time is needed to complete the process.
But at least one member of the county Board of Supervisors expressed frustration at the continued short-comings in operations at Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall in Downey and the Barry J. Nidorf Secure Youth Treatment Facility in Sylmar — saying the problems plaguing the facilities are not new.
“To say I am disappointed is an understatement,” Supervisor Janice Hahn said in a statement.
The California Board of State and Community Corrections, at its Feb. 15 meeting, is scheduled to discuss the suitability of both facilities to house youth offenders. A recent inspection by the agency cited continued failures in several areas, saying hardly any of the issues raised in reviews last year had been addressed — such as inadequate staffing, improper training, shortcomings in safety standards, lack of sufficient recreational opportunities and failure to get detained youth to school on time.
If the BSCC determines the facilities are unsuitable for youth detention, the county will be given a short timeline to implement corrective actions or the facilities might be ordered to close.
In a statement, the county’s chief probation officer, Guillermo Viera Rosa, said the agency is committed to bringing the facilities into full compliance. But he added, “Making the comprehensive changes requested by the BSCC and shifting the overall culture of the county’s juvenile institutions is a monumental undertaking that necessitates both time and dedication.”
“We have the dedication, we need the time. The issues identified by BSCC and others have been persistent for over 20 years. We cannot piecemeal the solution. This is a systemic problem that requires changing an entire operational culture.”
He also referenced what he called “conflicting requirements” imposed by the BSCC and state Department of Justice as hampering the efforts.
“It’s important to understand that these conflicting mandates create confusion, add complexity to our compliance efforts, and ultimately delay our ability to meet the standards set by the BSCC and other external agencies,” Rosa said. “Streamlining and harmonizing these requirements is essential to expediting our compliance efforts and ensuring that we can effectively meet all regulatory obligations.”
He repeatedly insisted that BSCC has declined to give the county enough time to fully implement operational changes.
“While the goals that BSCC has given to us are not ambitious in and of themselves — the timeframe they gave us to complete the work is,” he said. “To effectuate meaningful change, it is imperative to address deeply ingrained practices and foster a cultural shift that prioritizes rehabilitation, support, and the well-being of the young individuals in our care.”
But Hahn, in her statement, said the county has long known what the issues are at the juvenile halls, and she was disappointed that improvements are so slow in coming.
“We have long known what the BSCC’s expectations were and it is troubling that the department made so little progress and fell so short in meeting them,” Hahn said. “It is clear that our Probation Department has enormous challenges, from staffing to programming, but it is imperative that we bring these two facilities into compliance because the future of the youth in our care is in jeopardy. I pledge to put every available county resource behind bringing these facilities into compliance. The alternative is unacceptable.”
The county reopened Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall in Downey and transferred all pre-disposition youth to the facility, moving they away from Nidorf hall in Sylmar and Central Juvenile Hall in Lincoln Heights. The move followed the BSCC’s declaration last year that both facilities were found unsuitable to house youth detainees.
But Padrinos was quickly plagued by issues highlighting the difficulties of operating such a facility. The facility experienced a pair of escapes, although both detainees were quickly re-apprehended. In January, eight probation officers were placed on leave for a “significant incident” involving detainees. The Los Angeles Times reported that the officers stood idly by while a teen detainee was beaten by a group of other youths.