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LA County Probation Chief Moves to Raise Staffing Level in `Unsuitable’ Juvey Halls

Published on Thursday, May 25, 2023 | 5:22 am

One day after state regulators declared the county’s two juvenile halls unsuitable to house youth — with short-staffing among the issues leading to the declaration — Los Angeles County’s interim probation chief Wednesday ordered all 3,000 sworn peace officers in the department to serve at least one shift a month at juvenile halls.

The directive, taking effect June 1, will increase staffing “by ten- fold, flooding them with the personnel needed to reverse the chronic staffing shortages that have been at the heart of our problems there,” Interim Probation Chief Guillermo Viera Rosa said in a statement.

On Tuesday, the Board of State and Community Corrections formally declared the Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar and Central Juvenile Hall in Lincoln Heights unsuitable for housing pre-disposition youth, and ordered all detainees to be relocated within 60 days.

The board cited a laundry list of ongoing violations of state standards at the facilities, including sanitary conditions of the housing units, detainees’ access to school and other programs and staffing shortfalls.

Following the vote Tuesday, the board was set to formally notify the county of the decision Wednesday, beginning the 60-day clock ticking for all youth to moved out of the halls.

Representatives for the county unsuccessfully asked the board Tuesday for a 150-day delay, saying plans were already under way to relocate pre- disposition youth detainees to the previously closed Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall in Downey, but doing so in 60 days could create “chaos” and safety concerns. In its statement released Wednesday, the county Probation Department insisted the move will be completed within 60 days.

Roughly 275 pre-disposition youth — those who have not yet had their criminal cases resolved in court — are currently housed in the Nidorf and Central halls, a county representative told the board Tuesday. The BSCC order does not impact post-disposition youth housed in a Secure Youth Treatment Facility within Nidorf hall.

Viera Rosa last week ordered all of the Probation Department’s executive staff to serve one monthly shift at juvenile halls as well. Department officials said Viera Rosa served a shift at Nidort from 10 p.m. Saturday to 10 a.m. Sunday.

“I believe having everyone serve one shift a month in the juvenile halls is an excellent way for all of us to show support for, provide aid to and ensure the safety of our besieged and exhausted fellow officers as we turn the page to Los Padrinos,” Viera Rosa said.

County construction crews are working to renovate Los Padrinos hall to resume housing pre-disposition youth. The Probation Department noted that crews are working from 6 a.m. to 1 a.m. daily to meet the 60-day timeline imposed for the move.

In a statement after the board’s Tuesday vote, Hans Liang, president of the L.A. County Deputy Probation Officers Union, laid blame on the county and the Board of Supervisors for failing to provide adequate staffing at the halls.

“Officers assigned to the juvenile division are faced with daily youth-on-youth and youth-on-staff assaults and 40% of staff in the juvenile division are now out on injury leave,” Liang said. “To make up for the staffing shortfalls, staff are being compelled to work 18- to 24-hour shifts and have reached a breaking point, simply doing the best they can with limited resources and exhaustion.”

The BSCC also found the two juvenile halls unsuitable to house youths in 2021, but the facilities managed to remain open. Renewed inspection failures led the board to again initiate the process of declaring the halls unsuitable.

The county Board of Supervisors has been struggling to overhaul the troubled juvenile justice system even as it assumes responsibility for youth being transferred to counties from the state’s closing 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.

On May 2, the board approved a series of more immediate steps, including the relocation of all pre-disposition youth to Los Padrinos. Central Juvenile Hall will be used solely as an intake unit and medical and diagnostic/assessment hub, and only Secure Youth Treatment Facility youth will be housed at Nidorf.

The plan also included the readjustment of millions of dollars for capital improvements at the juvenile halls, with overall costs anticipated to reach nearly $50 million.

That plan also called on the sheriff’s department to deploy volunteer reserve deputies to help fill holes in staffing at the juvenile halls.

The county’s juvenile detention system and the Probation Department that oversees it have been routinely under fire from state regulators over conditions at the facilities, which have been plagued by oversight and staffing issues for years.

In March of last year, about 140 juvenile detainees were hastily transferred from Central Juvenile Hall to Barry J. Nidorf hall — 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 former detainees 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. County CEO Fesia 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 Adolfo Gonzales, with board Chair Janice Hahn noting that the juvenile halls “are in crisis.”

On May 9, a teenage detainee at Nidorf hall died of a drug overdose.

On that same day, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled that the county juvenile halls still fail to meet the terms of a 2021 court judgment requiring improvements in conditions including staffing and ensuring youth are taken to schools and medical appointments in a timely manner. Another hearing in that case is scheduled for June 20.

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