Los Angeles County supervisors agreed Tuesday: The Probation Department is failing.
Many officers say they are too traumatized to go to work. Youth housing is dilapidated and programming is sparse. the board alone expelled the most recent department head: the ninth probation leader to come and go in two decades.
In a matter of months, a crisis-plagued department could face its biggest yet: a state-mandated closure of its juvenile detention centers by the California Board of State and Community Corrections. The unprecedented decision by state regulators could result in the closure of halls and the transfer of youths to juvenile detention centers in other counties.
With a few months to go before a dramatic course correction, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved three motions Tuesday aimed at overhauling the troubled department. The motions are aimed at decreasing the number of teens in the department’s care, finding suitable places to house juvenile offenders who come to the county from state juvenile prisons, and strengthening the Department of Youth Development, a new agency focused on rehabilitation. that the supervisors are anxious. to see one day replace the Probation Department.
Supervisor Janice Hahn, co-author of one of the motionshe said he hoped the board’s actions could “try to right that ship.”
“We are willing to row in the same direction. But we need a boat that we can row and, up until now, it’s been riddled with holes and seems to be sinking every day,” Hahn said. “We really are failing miserably.”
On this point, the board agreed. Supervisors Holly Mitchell and Lindsey Horvath, co-authors of the motions on increased early releases and strengthening the Youth Development Department called the conditions “appalling” and “absolutely unacceptable”. Supervisor Hilda Solis said she was “extremely frustrated” and wanted to see better cooperation with probation unions.
With Tuesday’s vote, the board asked the director of probation, along with other county agencies that play a role in juvenile justice, to work with the district attorney to release as many as they can from the halls and camps. . Under the motion, that could include teens detained for misdemeanor or probation violations and those expected to be released in the next two months.
“The department’s inability to meet minimum obligations to the youth in its care is a painfully clear demonstration of the urgent need to depopulate the halls,” the motion reads. “With only a few months to go to achieve full compliance, the department must seriously consider multiple strategies.”
County officials said it was unclear how many of the roughly 466 people imprisoned in the department’s halls and camps could be safely released. The district attorney’s office said in a statement that it shares the board’s concern regarding youth and that it will “work with our judicial partners to create safe release plans for all those who may be released.”
AFSCME Local 685, which represents county probation officers, accused probation officers of assuming a role belonging to the judiciary. Jonathan Byrd, the union’s chief steward, said in a statement that the vote amounted to “a direct attack on the separation of powers.”
The push to depopulate halls and camps comes as the state sends more young offenders into county care. As California dismantles its Juvenile Justice Divisionor DJJ, and sends jailed youths back to their home counties, Los Angeles County has had trouble accommodating newcomers who are convicted of more serious crimes.
Some have been housed at Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar. One of the motions approved Tuesday aims to better support these youth by increasing staffing in these units and bolstering programming. The motion also asks the Probation Department to come up with a plan to reduce the population in Nidorf and consider temporarily reopening the Los Padrinos Youth Center, which closed in 2019.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger said she and Horvath had taken a tour of Nidorf last month. She said the visit had made it clear that there was “no plan to receive DJJ youth” nor an urgency to address the needs of youth already at the facility.
Barger said he had found the conditions appalling. Teenagers dumped stomach-churning breakfasts straight into the trash. The young people were sitting in the common area with nothing to do. One told him that he needed to complete his studies to be released. But no one showed up to teach him.
“We’re paying, I don’t know what,” Barger said. “In short, something has to change.”
Time is running out as the threat of a state-ordered closure of the two juvenile detention centers looms over the county. California Board of State and Community Corrections, an 11-year-old boy state agency that conducts inspections of detention centers for adults and minors, recently found 39 non-compliance areas through the two youth pavilions. The failures run the gamut, many of them continuing problems from recent inspections: youth confined to their rooms for too long, youth not getting enough time outdoors, staff untrained in the current use-of-force policy.
State regulators are expected to decide at a meeting this spring whether to close the halls if the board can’t fix the 39 issues and comply. The board will meet in April and again in mid-June.
Such an order would send the probation department into uncharted waters.
“BSCC has never ordered a facility to be vacated,” Tracie Cone, a spokeswoman for the Board of State and Community Correction, wrote in an email. “Usually counties correct their deficiencies.”
It is unclear where the young people would go. County officials seemed prepared for the worst, writing in Tuesday’s board motion on depopulating the camps that “youth in the department’s care could pay the worst price for this potential order, including out-of-county placements.” and transfers to the adult system. ”
Cone said it would be up to the county to decide where the youth would go, though she said state regulation prohibits the county from transferring youth to an adult center.
The issues discussed Tuesday were familiar to Adrián Reynosa, who was released from Nidorf in December after two years inside the troubled facility. He said his education was patchy due to personnel problems, his food was largely inedible, and activities were few and far between.
“Of course, they are going to say that everyone is fighting and doing this and that,” he said. “But ultimately, what is there to do?”
After watching the meeting Tuesday, Reynosa said he wasn’t sure if the motions represented the turning point in which they were being framed.
I had heard these promises before.
“Probation said they were going to do a lot of things for us. They are going to improve the staff, better food, this and that,” she said. “It is still the same”.