State orders LA County to close juvenile halls within 60 days

A California regulatory board has ordered Los Angeles County to shutter two troubled juvenile halls that house about 275 youths by the end of July.

The Board of State and Community Corrections voted Tuesday, May 23, to declare L.A. County’s Barry J. Nidorf and Central Juvenile Halls “unsuitable.” Such a declaration gives the county 60 days to empty the halls of all “pre-disposition youths,” a category that covers teens and young adult detainees who have not been sentenced.

At the meeting, county officials urged the board to once again delay the decision and instead give them 150 days to implement a plan to consolidate their staff and youths to a soon-to-be reopened Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall in Downey, but the board members declined that option, saying the proposal was “too little, too late.”

Chair Linda Penner said the county pledged to make reforms more than a year ago, and yet noted the juvenile halls are once again out of compliance.

“I have heard this before from Los Angeles County, and I think the time has come to take an extraordinarily difficult move,” she said.

In a statement, interim Chief Probation Officer Guillermo Viera Rosa expressed disappointment in the decision, but agreed 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,” Viera Rosa 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.”

Viera Rosa, a former BSCC member, was absent from Tuesday’s meeting because of a prohibition against him appearing before his former board for at least a year. Margarita Perez, a former chief deputy probation officer, appeared in his stead, along with consultants hired to right L.A. County’s struggling juvenile hall system.

Perez said crews are working at Los Padrinos 24 hours a day to try to meet the deadline.

“We anticipate the majority of these upgrades will be completed within the next 30 to 45 days to allow us to meet the minimum BSCC compliance standards, with more expansive renovations to continue for a number of months,” Perez said.

The unions representing the county probation’s field deputies, supervisors and directors criticized the plan, saying it does not solve the department’s ongoing staffing crisis. Many of the issues at the two juvenile halls have been attributed to a lack of available staff, with the county now angling to bring in reserve sheriff’s deputies, interns and graduate students to help relieve sworn employees from non-sworn work.

BSCC inspections found that youths regularly missed school, were deprived of outdoor time and had to urinate in their rooms overnight due to the staff shortages.

Staff members, meanwhile, have complained of excessively long shifts to pick up the slack and escalating instances of violence. One L.A. County official described it as a snowball effect, where employees are calling out to avoid the impacts caused by others not showing up.

“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,” said Hans Liang, president of the Deputy Probation Officers Union in a statement. “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 unions noted there are more than 1,000 vacancies in the Probation Department due to a hiring freeze.

“If we had the proper resources, primarily maintaining appropriate staffing levels, we could provide the programs the Board of Supervisors and BSCC are seeking, but we barely have enough staff to cover shifts,” stated Regino Torres Jr., president of the Association of Probation Supervisors. “If staffing levels were restored, we could bring back the sports camps and other programming we know the juveniles in our care need.”

Under Viera Rosa’s proposal, the county will continue to use both Central and Barry J. Nidorf, even after the closure, for other purposes. Central will be used as a law enforcement intake center and a medical hub for the other halls, while Nidrof will house a small number of youths at its Secure Youth Treatment Facility, which serves youths who have been returned from the state’s Division of Juvenile Jjustice. Currently, BSCC does not have authority over such facilities, though Gov. Gavin Newsom has indicated he wants to expand the board’s power to include SYTF in the future.

If that happens, Penner explained at the meeting, BSCC will reinspect Barry J. Nidorf to determine if it is unsuitable to house SYTF as well.


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