ON ANY GIVEN DAY IN LA COUNTY’S 21 JUVENILE PROBATION CAMPS AND JUVENILE HALLS, a total of around 3000 children and teenagers are locked up under the watch and care of the Los Angeles County Department of Probation .
Anyone who works in and around the kids and teenagers who have served time in those facilities has heard more than a few anecdotal accounts of staff abuse. Some of the stories come from the kids themselves, or from their parents who feel helpless to do anything with what they have been told them by their children. [READ TO THE BOTTOM FOR ONE SUCH ACCOUNT.]
I’ve been told similar accounts by volunteers who teach writing and the like to young inmates in inside the camps or juvenile halls.
Some of the stories are more egregious and credible than others. But even with the most believable accounts, the details are inevitably tough to verify. It does not help that many of the 600 security cameras placed throughout the facilities—cameras that might have proved or disproved the alleged incidents—have long been broken.
(Last month the LA County Sups voted to spend $1.2 million to figure out how to replace some of those cameras. Very nice, but a little late, guys. The broken cameras have been reported for several years.)
NOW, HOWEVER, SUNDAY’S LA TIMES FEATURES a rigorously reported article by reporters Richard Winton and Molly Hennessy-Fiske, that finally brings to light documentation of a few of the long rumored abuses.
To research their story, Winton and Hennesy-Fisk trolled through piles of court paperwork and police records, along with talking with sources inside county the probation system. The result is an important article that lays out multiple instances of abuse perpetrated by the very people inside the county facilities who are supposed to be helping and protecting the juveniles in their charge.
Among the incidents Winton and Hennessy found:
* A probation officer had sex with three youths in the detention hall where she worked — in laundry, supply and interview rooms. She was sentenced last year to four years in prison after pleading guilty to five counts of felony sexual abuse.
* A probation officer caught on tape beating a youth in a juvenile hall recreation room was convicted last year of battery and sentenced to 24 months’ probation.
* A probation officer was sentenced to a year in jail last year for directing five teenagers under her care to beat another youngster who she mistakenly believed had stolen her cellphone.
And here is another representative clip.
The Times examined records from the last four years – a period during which county officials hired Robert Taylor to head the agency with the mandate of reforming the department, including providing better oversight of officers. At the time he took over, the department was struggling with violence in its halls and camps and persistent criticism that it was doing little to help the juvenile offenders in its care.
Probation officials have sustained 102 allegations of officer misconduct involving youths at the county’s halls and camps over the last three years, according to a department source who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to release the information publicly. The source said many of the sustained cases involved complaints of excessive force. Department officials did not disclose how many officers were involved in misconduct or the extent of any discipline.
IT IS ESSENTIAL TO NOTE that there are many staff and administrators in the countys various juvenile facilities who are deeply dedicated to their work, and who assuredly make a difference in a lot of young lives..
For instance, Camp Vernon Kilpatrick located in the hills above Malibu is known for the positive affect of its CIF-rated sports program.
Camp David Gonzales in Calabasas is a model camp known for its commitment to strengthening not warehousing the young men who come through its doors through its consistently innovative educational and vocational programs.
BUT ALONGSIDE THE GOOD WORK BEING DONE in the LA probation’s best facilities there are accounts of conditions at other facilities that suggest that what the LA Times’ reporters uncovered is merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
There is, for instance, the pending ACLU lawsuit that alleges a laundry list of abuses and instances of educational neglect at the four-camp facility known as Challenger.
And there are anecdotal stories like the one I heard Sunday night.