Near the end of Tuesday’s LA County Board of Supervisors meeting during which budget talks took up most of the day, the board ordered an extensive fiscal audit of the county’s probation department, looking specifically into the areas in which probation deals with kids.
But, surprisingly, the supes didn’t stop there.
in addition to the audit, which was authored by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas with the support of Supervisor Mike Antonovich, three of the supervisors made it clear they had concerns about probation’s juvenile camps that ran far deeper than what the proposed audit could address.
For example there was “the discrepancy.”
Ridley-Thomas was the first to bring up what he described as the “discrepancy” between the last month’s report stating that LA County’s juvenile probation camps were in “full compliance” with the 73 reforms demanded by the Civil Rights Division of the US Department of Justice, after six years of DOJ oversight, and the startling new report by the county’s auditor-controller released a week ago, which said something very different.
The auditor-controller’s report, said Ridley-Thomas, “suggests in no uncertain terms that probation did not maintain substantial compliance with six of the seven [DOJ] provisions randomly reviewed.”
(WitnessLA broke the news of the Auditor-Controller’s report last week.)
Ridley-Thomas wanted to know the cause of the discrepancy between the two reports, which he called fundamentally important.”I think we have to be clear about the quality of life in the camps as it relates to how those youngsters are faring.”
The camps had certainly improved, Ridley-Thomas acknowledged But it was “problematic” if the situation was being presented as “more improved than, in fact, it actually was. And that was the point of his concerns, he said. “We need a realtime accurate report.”
Supervisor Hilda Solis was up next and said that she too had some serious concerns about probation’s progress in the county’s long-troubled juvenile camps.
Solis told about when she herself had visited the camps, she saw kids who were being “in my opinion, punished” by being put in cells “similar to solitary confinement,” without “good provisions” or “appropriate clothing.” When Solis asked who was overseeing these kids, and how long the youth were supposed to be in these isolating cells, she said she did not get satisfactory answers.
In fact, in the conversations she had with the kids, Solis said, she got “completely different information,” than that she heard from probation staff.
So, although she supported the motion for the audit, she wanted assurances that the auditor-controller had the capabilities of really drilling down and taking to kids. If not, Solis said, she wasn’t sure the motion would get to what she felt was important for the board to know.
“I think it’s very important for us to get feedback from the actual population that we’re serving,” said Solis.
Ridley-Thomas agreed and said the’d amend to motion to reflect Solis’s concerns. “The youngsters who are under supervision have to be part of what is ultimately reported on.”
It was at that point that Supervisor Sheila Kuehl stepped in with an idea that she hoped would address everyone’s concerns.
QUALITATIVE & QUANTITATIVE
The auditor-controller could look at “quantitative issues,” she said (e.g. things like what percentage of juvenile camp staff went though this or that required training). And the board should “ask the auditor-controller to do what the auditor-controller does.” Hence the motion.
But the “qualitative” issues must be addressed another way. With this in mind, Keuhl proposed that when the board returns from its upcoming trip to Washington D.C., it should “figure further ways to take the place of the [D.O.J] monitors.” A place to start, she suggested, would be to “take a real look” at the Juvenile Probation Outcomes Study released last month (WLA reported on the study here)
Keuhl noted that the 155-page report addressed a number of “qualitative issues” like “keeping kids out of he system,” the need for substance abuse programs, mental health issues, education, “the issue of whether there’s solitary confinement or not, which I think many of us are very concerned about,” and so on.
“It’s a very good thing for the D.O.J. to say we’ve met certain goals. But it would be remiss for the five of us to say, ‘Okay, well, then we’re not going to take any further look at these qualitative issues.’” The board could be good partners on those issues, Keuhl.
Interestingly, while Probation Chief Jerry Powers had originally minimized the significance of the Auditor-Controller’s report about the juvenile camps areas of noncompliance, he now jumped in with his own proactive follow-up to Keuhl’s plan to address the so-called qualitative issues now that the D.O.J. had packed and gone.
Probation was in the final stages of doing the work necessary to bring in a “performance based standards” system that, Powers said, “includes confidential surveys of he kids in custody relative to the quality of food, do they feel safe, are they treated with respect…” Powers suggested that many of the things in these soon-to-launch ongoing surveys may be able to measure some of the issues that Solis brought up.
All in all, it was a remarkably reform-minded turn of events.
We will, obviously, be keeping track of how the issue of board oversight of juvenile probation continues to unfold.