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State Board Declares LA County Juvey Halls Unsuitable to Detain Youth

Published on Tuesday, May 23, 2023 | 6:00 pm
 

A state regulatory board Tuesday declared Los Angeles County’s Barry J. Nidorf and Central juvenile halls unsuitable to house pre-disposition youth and ordered the county to relocate such detainees out of the facilities within 60 days.

Members of the Board of State and Community Corrections said they felt they had no alternative other than to make the declaration, citing a protracted history of short-comings at the facilities, which were found in recent inspections to still be out of compliance with numerous state standards. Board members called the county’s recently approved “aggressive” plans for an overhaul of its juvenile detention system too little, too late.

Representatives for the county unsuccessfully asked the board for a 150-day delay in the board’s action, saying plans are 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.

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 order will not impact post-disposition youth housed in a Secure Youth Treatment Facility within Nidorf hall in Sylmar. Central Juvenile Hall is in Lincoln Heights.

In a lengthy presentation to the board, representatives for the county outlined the county’s ambitious efforts to move youth out of the two facilities. Margarita Perez, a former assistant chief probation officer, appeared on behalf of the county and conceded there have been historic failures to correct shortcomings at the facilities, but she said another 150 days would “allow us to transfer our predisposition youth to Los Padrinos Hall … with the least amount of disruption to youth, their families, our staff and their partners.”

Perez said forcing the county to relocate all youth from the facilities within 60 days “will undoubtedly contribute to some level of chaos and confusion.”

But the pleas for another delay fell on deaf ears. Board chair Linda Penner said she appreciates the “extremely meaningful” improvements the county has in the works, but she added: “I’ve heard this before from Los Angeles County.”

Fellow board members Kirk Haynes added, “It is a plan that is way too late.” He said the county should have anticipated a move of the youth months ago and begun its preparations then.

In a statement following the vote, Interim L.A. County Chief Probation Officer Guillermo Viera Rosa said that while he was “disappointed” in the 60-day timeline being imposed, “we agree that it is time for the department to discontinue using these facilities for housing pre-disposition youth.”

“We are already executing a plan to transfer these youth, staff, programs, and services to Los Padrinos by the deadline,” he said. “We also want to make clear that the BSCC’s decision today will not result in the release of hundreds of youth, as some have erroneously alleged. As we look forward to the methodical and smooth transition to Los Padrinos, we will also continue working on the more complicated issues of staffing and culture within the Department. These will take longer to resolve, but we are determined to do it.”

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

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 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 outlined by county CEO Fesia Davenport. Under that plan, all pre-disposition youth will move to Los Padrinos, while 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.

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, which have been plagued by oversight and staffing issues.

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 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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