The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors today moved forward with a “global plan” for the placement and care of juvenile detainees, while also calling for a reduction in the number of juveniles in county custody and preparing for an influx of detainees from soon-to-close state facilities.
Many of the county’s juvenile detention facilities are in partial disuse, and nine are completely out of service. The current total number of inmates is 519.
After hearing more than two hours of public testimony Tuesday, the board unanimously approved a series of motions aimed at re-envisioning the juvenile custody system by reducing the number of detainees in county facilities and shifting responsibility for their care away from the troubled Probation Department.
“These motions take the necessary action to offer young people the programs, support and timely release that are critical to their success,” Supervisor Lindsey Horvath said in a statement after the vote. “We are also taking steps to move authority from the Probation Department to the Department of Youth Development, which was created as a restorative justice hub entrusted with leading the care of young people in our justice system.”
The top priority will be to relieve the current crowding in Sylmar’s Barry Nidorf Juvenile Hall. Youth from the state’s Juvenile Justice facilities—which are being closed—are slated to be housed by July 1 in re-purposed and reconstructed county accommodations known as Secure Youth Treatment Facilities, under the authority of the county’s Department of Youth Development.
Created in July 2022, the DYD is intended to coordinate and build capacity for a wide range of youth development services.
So far, however, the county has designated only two SYTF sites. The first is at Nidorf Hall, but it is struggling, according to the board motion, which states, “Nidorf is sorely lacking the components of a successful program.”
The second SYTF is in Camp Kilpatrick, located in Malibu’s Encinal Canyon, and has been hailed as a more successful operation.
The motion also suggests that the department’s mothballed Downey Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall be reopened to accommodate the surplus of current residents at Nidorf. Meanwhile, Nidorf Hall itself could be repartitioned to create a more expansive 72-bed SYTF.
The motion also suggests unifying accommodations for women, girls and gender-expansive youth at Camp Scott in Santa Clarita.
The motion was made by Supervisors Horvath and Janice Hahn.
The board also approved a motion by Horvath and Supervisor Holly Mitchell, which seeks to ensure “use of the least restrictive placements for young people in the Probation Department’s care and custody.”
The motion states that the county “has a sacred obligation to provide a safe, healthy, and rehabilitative environment for the young people in its care. However, many documented inspections and other reports on the conditions in the county’s juvenile halls continue to make alarmingly clear it has fallen far short of this.
“The young people incarcerated in our juvenile halls are paying the price for the neglect that gives way to the deteriorating conditions,
the motion continued. “The Probation Oversight Commission and Office of Inspector General reports add to an already troubling history of violence, abuse, and poor conditions in these facilities.”
The motion asks that interim Chief Probation Officer Karen Fletcher, along with public defenders and “other relevant stakeholders” consider early release for youths incarcerated for “technical violations” or while awaiting “adjudication or early release.”
It also instructs Fletcher to share individual case information with public defenders and mental health, family service and youth development officials and to request the participation of the district attorney and the court system in “a structured release system for young people who do not need to be incarcerated.”
Individual release plans for such young people will be prepared by the public defender or alternative public defender in collaboration with the district attorney and the courts, according to the motion.
Fletcher was directed to report back to the board on the issue in two weeks.
The Los Angeles County Probation Department has been plagued with troubles for more than a year.
In March of last year, about 140 juvenile detainees were hastily transferred from Central Juvenile Hall in Lincoln Heights to Nidorf—a move that the county inspector general later concluded was orchestrated to avert a state inspection that appeared likely to fail. The county has also been sued by hundreds of former detainees alleging they were sexually assaulted by probation and detention officer at county juvenile facilities.
Earlier this month, the Board of Supervisors fired Probation Department Chief Adolfo Gonzales, with Hahn noting that county juvenile halls “are in crisis” and that the department had a “void in leadership.”