State regulators have warned Los Angeles County officials that they will likely close the county’s two long-troubled juvenile detention centers, an unprecedented order that would further destabilize the nation’s largest juvenile justice system and leave officials struggling to find suitable places for hundreds of young people in their care.
In a letter sent Thursday to interim probation chief Karen Fletcher, the California Board of State and Community Corrections said it would decide in three weeks whether the Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Center in Sylmar and the Juvenile Center in downtown Los Angeles, two facilities the board has repeatedly found out of compliance with state regulations, must be closed.
The board has determined that the county’s juvenile detention centers were “unsuitable” for housing youth in the past, but gave the Probation Department time to submit a “corrective action plan” to comply with state regulations.
But the most recent plan put forth by the Probation Department lacked specificity or a timeline for improvement, according to the letter, which said there will be no opportunity for the county to correct course after the vote this time around.
“If the board determines that the facilities are unsuitable for the confinement of juveniles, the county must vacate the juvenile detention centers within 60 days of the determination,” wrote Allison Ganter, deputy director of the board.
The probation department did not respond to a list of questions sent by email Friday.
County officials initially believed they had until state regulators met in mid-June to fix the myriad problems the agency highlighted inside the two facilities earlier in the year. Between Central and Nidorf, the state board found 39 non-compliance areas – many of them stemming from the department’s personnel crisis. Problems included youth being confined to their rooms for too long, not being given enough time outdoors, and staff not being properly trained in the agency’s use-of-force policy.
On March 14, the county submitted an eight-page plan to the state agency, which officials hoped would help bring the facility back into compliance.
But Ganter wrote Thursday that the board found the plan “inadequate” in that it failed to fully address critical personnel issues. She said the board now planned to decide on April 13 whether to order the facility vacated, leaving the Probation Department just three weeks to craft a review dramatic enough to persuade regulators to keep the facility open.
A spokesman for the county’s chief executive office said the county is working quickly to develop a “supplemental action plan” that addresses the agency’s concerns and anticipates receiving “technical assistance from the state to achieve timely change.”
The closure threat is the latest in a long series of calamities for the Probation Department over the past two years.
Chief Adolfo Gonzales was fired earlier this month after a Times investigation revealed he overturned a decision to fire a supervisor at the center of a controversial video showing officers heaping a teenager and folding his legs over his head. head, even though it did not appear. to resist them. That case is now the subject of separate investigations by the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office and the Office of the Inspector General.
Last November, a Times investigation detailed months of chaos inside Central and Nidorf. Fearful of increased violence in the hallways, officers began yelling en masse, leaving the hallways severely understaffed and prompting the widespread use of lockdowns. Staff shortages often left young people isolated and with limited access to education or therapy.
Last month, a probation officer and a youth recently transferred to the county from the state Division of Juvenile Justice were stabbed to death in separate incidents at the Nidorf Youth Safe Center, which houses juveniles accused of serious crimes, including murder and sexual assault.
Raymond Bradford Jr., who served 18 years in custody, has been charged with multiple counts of attempted murder of a law enforcement officer, records show. He pleaded not guilty. Several officers were listed as victims in the attack, but it was unclear how badly they were injured. The union representing rank and file probation officers declined to comment.
In the second stabbing, probation officers were warned that some youths might be conspiring to harm the victim, according to Sam Lewis, a member of the Parole Oversight Commission. Lewis said he asked probation officers not to house the victim near the young man who ended up attacking him, but his concerns were ignored.
“I want to say this emphatically: We’ve been lucky no one was killed,” Lewis told the commission last month. “When you have a director or a supervisor who wants to tell you, ‘Don’t transfer a youth to this center, it will cause harm to that youth and the staff,’ and you ignore it anyway, that tells me you’re incompetent, you don’t care. Or are you insidious in some way?
The Probation Department has not responded to questions about any of the attacks.
On Friday afternoon, the county Board of Supervisors met behind closed doors to discuss next steps after receiving the state’s letter. Board president Janice Hahn said in a statement that the session was held to “find a way forward to keep both the youth in our hallways and our staff safe and supported.”
The closed meeting comes just three days after the board voted on three motions aimed at overhauling the troubled department. The motions called for the Probation Department to work to reduce the number of teens in the department’s care and find suitable places to house juvenile offenders coming into the county from state juvenile facilities, among other requests.
Following Friday’s nearly three-hour closed session, Supervisor Kathryn Barger said in a statement that the board had asked Fletcher to “find solutions that provide youth with appropriate care and rehabilitation while under the supervision of the county”.
“We have to get this right,” he said.
If they don’t, the county will have only two months to find places for the approximately 380 children located in both rooms.
This number could increase in the coming months as California closes its Division of Juvenile Justice and sends more youth in state facilities back to their home counties. While it is presumed that the youth would go to the Nidorf Secure Youth Facility, or SYTF, a lack of programming at the facility and recent violence have raised concerns about housing those returning from state facilities in Nidorf.
Wende Julien, head of the Parole Oversight Commission, said the department’s watchdog group had repeatedly recommended that the department transfer these youths to either the Safe Youth Center at the Kilpatrick Campus in Malibu or the Los Padrinos Youth Center in Downey. , which closed in 2019.
It hasn’t happened.
“The Probation Department has made very little progress, including that only 11 youth have been transferred to Kilpatrick and the rest remain at Barry J. Nidorf.” Julien wrote in a statement. “…While SYTF-willing youth make up only about 20% of the juvenile detention center population today, the Parole Supervision Commission has recommended moving them to a more appropriate and rehabilitative location for their benefit and to address recurring issues at the Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall.”
She said that the Supervisory Commission has not received a plan from the probation department regarding the clearance of the halls.
Tracie Cone, a spokeswoman for the Board of State and Community Corrections, previously said the board does not play a role in deciding where the county should transfer youth, though she noted that state regulations prohibit the county from transferring youth to facilities for adults. She declined to comment on the board’s letter to Fletcher.