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Controversial New Probation Policy Makes It Easier for Staff to Get Promoted After Being Disciplined for “Inappropriate Conduct”

September 26th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


Los Angeles County Probation has recently instituted a policy
making it easier for staff who have prior discipline problems to receive promotions, but not everyone is pleased by this development.

The policy, which is the result of a deal struck between county officials and probation’s labor unions, has been greeted with alarm by critics who point to a still troubled department with a history of mistreating the children in its care, and a penchant for tolerating extravagant, and sometimes criminal misconduct by a portion of its sworn employees.

The agency’s previous chief, Jerry Powers (who departed under a cloud last year), came to the job in late 2011 with a mandate to institute broad reforms. Yet many probation employees, along with union leadership, complained that Powers instead often caused deserving staff to be blocked from advancement for trivial infractions, whereas higher-ups who broke rules experienced no such consequences.

Those who favor the new policy maintain that the revised guidelines for promotions simply give a second chance to otherwise worthy people who’ve made minor mistakes.

Yet critics of the policy fear that county officials wrongly caved in to pressures by the unions, and that problems will result. To illustrate their concerns, they point to certain sections of the new guidelines, which seem to wink at behavior that should be disqualifying.

For instance, under the revised policy, one is eligible for a promotion after having engaged in certain kinds of “inappropriate conduct,” and long as one has not engaged in said conduct “two or more times,” within 60 months, which would constitute a “pattern.” Examples of the conduct in question are listed as those concerning issues such as:

behavior unbecoming peace officer;
honesty;
integrity;
truthfulness;
moral turpitude
unreasonably or unjustified use of force.

Yet, in certain instances, even if there is two or more instances of ‘moral turpitude” or “unjustified use of force,” or whatever else, according to the guidelines, executive management may still step in and make it possible for the staff member to promote.

(You can find the guidelines here if you want to take a look for yourself.)

On Sunday, the LA Times ran an excellent story by Abby Sewell and Garrett Therolf about the new agreement and the issues swirling around it.

In researching their story, the Times obtained a copy of the list of 57 people who are to be promoted based on the new policy. Here’s some of what Sewell and Therolf discovered about those 57:

They included one worker who was disciplined in 2012 for putting his hands around a juvenile’s neck, in 2013 for injuring another juvenile, and in 2014 for abusive language, dishonesty and failure to perform his duties, according to a source with access to his file.

Another worker had been disciplined in 2011 for misuse of force for striking a juvenile, according to a source with access to his file. A third had been given a 20-day suspension in 2012 for “failure to properly supervise” and “failure to exercise sound judgment.”

That arose from a 2010 incident in which she was on duty in a dormitory at one of the juvenile lockups and one minor was assaulted by another and sustained a serious jaw injury. The department’s investigation found that the officers on duty “allowed the dormitory to remain in a chaotic state with virtually no supervision.”

And then there was this:

One beneficiary of the new policy was an officer who was disciplined for excessive force after slamming a boy’s head into a bed frame. Officials gave him a 15-day suspension, according to a county official with access to his file who requested anonymity because California law prohibits the disclosure of peace officer discipline. After the rule change, he was promoted earlier this year, helping to raise his pay by more than $9,500 above last year’s total compensation of $95,000, county officials said.

According to a conversation the Times had with interim probation chief Cal Remington, an additional 18 probation employees, “some with more serious misconduct,” are currently being considered for promotion.


(PS: Be sure to read the rest of Sewell and Therolf’s story.)

Posted in Probation | 4 Comments »

Will the LA County Board of Supes Consult Community Experts Before Choosing a New Probation Chief?

September 15th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


Last week we wrote about the five finalists being considered for the position
of chief of Los Angeles County’s Department of Probation, the largest such agency in the nation, and an agency still—to put it politely—loaded with challenges.

At that time, it seemed that, after months of delay, the five members of the county’s board of supervisors were speeding toward a decision.

But since we last wrote, it seems that that they may possibly have put on the brakes, at least a little, to allow room for further deliberation.

Or maybe not.

Frankly, it’s hard to tell, since the board has not been terribly forthcoming about the process.

In the meantime, three prominent youth experts, who represent three organizations that each do significant work with the county’s kids, have written an op ed for the Daily News in which they ask he supes to please include members of the larger community in their decision making, rather than doing the whole thing in secret, as is the case now.

The three authors are Alex Johnson, executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund-California; Susan Lee, executive director of the Urban Peace Institute; and Diwaine Smith, a community organizer at the Youth Justice Coalition, who had his own interactions with the probation and courts system when he was younger.

Here are some clips from what the three wrote about the importance of engaging the help and advice of those who represent kids most directly affected by the system, which the new chief will oversee.

Over the last week, five final candidates interviewed for the position of chief of the Los Angeles County Probation Department. This week, the County Board of Supervisors will choose the next chief in a closed session, without community input or insight. The new chief will be our seventh in 10 years.

We represent organizations that work with youth who have been impacted by the probation and court systems in Los Angeles. Collectively, we have experienced the juvenile justice system first-hand. We have supported youth negotiating court processes and law enforcement contacts. And together we have changed policies so that young people cast as “delinquents” and “juvenile offenders” are treated with compassion, dignity and respect. We represent organizers, advocates, lawyers and community members — including youth and families impacted by these systems — who vote and care about how public dollars are invested in youth, in their communities and in safety.

Our organizations have long been concerned by crises in the Los Angeles County Probation Department — from a lack of leadership, vision and integrity, to outright scandals exposing both staff abuse of young people and fiscal mismanagement. One example is the failure to spend more than $21 million in state funds on effective youth intervention programs and services, and another $140 million for similar adult services. We have also been concerned about the lack of community engagement in making key decisions — like the selection of the new Los Angeles County chief probation officer.

Engaging, without tokenizing, the voices of directly impacted youth, families and other community leaders in important decision-making is not only just but strategic. It is part of building trust with the broader public. It is essential to delivering services that are responsive to people’s needs. Authentic community engagement also lends legitimacy to county decisions in the long run, and is part of an effective oversight mechanism.

Nine months have passed since Jerry Powers, amid controversy, resigned as head of the department. Seven months have passed since we came together to propose ideas for selecting and setting priorities for new leadership in order to transform the largest probation department in the world.

In a February 2016 letter and in several meetings with county staff, we asked the Board of Supervisors to hire a chief who could change the department’s culture from a punitive, law enforcement orientation to one focused on youth and community development, intervention and rehabilitation. We asked for leadership that would align the Probation Department with the highest standards for trauma-informed care, transformative justice and successful healing and reunification of system-involved young people with their families and communities. We asked that the new chief lead with clear vision, inspiration, moral integrity and strong management. Following the successes of places like New York and Washington, D.C., we asked that the county hire a chief from outside of probation and law enforcement, and someone with meaningful experience in youth development and institutional change.

The three go on to point out that in the past decade the county has gone through one chief after the other. Each “promised change,” yet nearly all resigned amid controversy and/or scandal, as in the case of the most recent probation chief, Jerry Powers.

In our letter, we also asked that the Board of Supervisors ensure the community’s involvement in the selection of a new chief, as well as in shaping the future vision and work. We proactively proposed criteria for candidates, names of candidates and a different process for selection. Thankfully, some of those ideas shaped the job description and recruitment of candidates for the position. Still, since February, little about the process has been inclusive or transparent. We are still without a chief.

And now, all but one of five final candidates — while accomplished — come from the law enforcement arena.

Once again, we urge that the county Board of Supervisors and all of Los Angeles work together toward truly transforming and holding the Probation Department accountable to effectively serving L.A.’s most underserved communities. We continue to urge that the county open up the candidate selection process and slate, and think outside of the box in selecting a visionary chief….

You can read the rest of the op ed here.

We hope the Supes will take the time to read it too.

Posted in Probation | 3 Comments »

A Close Look at the Final Five in the Running for LA County Probation Chief

September 7th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon



It’s down to five finalists for the critically important position
of chief of Los Angeles County’s embattled Department of Probation, the largest such agency in the nation.

The county’s board of supervisors interviewed some of the final five on Tuesday and will finish interviewing on Wednesday. Then, according to our sources, the board may make its choice as soon as by the end of the week.

The finalists are—in alphabetical order:

Donna Groman, supervising judge of the LA County Juvenile Delinquency Court in South LA
Terri McDonald, former assistant sheriff in charge of LA County’s Jail System
Dave Mitchell, Acting Deputy Chief for Residential Treatment Services for LA County Probation
Sheila Mitchell, former head of Probation for Santa Clara County
Margarita Perez, former Assistant Chief of LA County Probation Field Services operations

As of this past weekend, Terri McDonald and Sheila Mitchell are the front runners. But the Supes are a mercurial lot. Plus, after cycling through 5 probation chiefs in just over 10 years, plus ongoing revelations pointing to the fact that the agency’s problems are still, unfortunately, far from solved, the board knows it needs to get this particular choice right.

We will get to the front-runner issue in a minute. First here are some upsides and downsides on each of the five finalists.

A quick note: As we compiled our list of candidates’ pros and cons, we talked to a varied list of well-placed sources who requested not to be quoted directly at this moment, out of respect for the selection process.


TERRI MC DONALD

Terri McDonald was in charge of LA County’s massive and troubled jail system during the recent post-scandal period in which a great deal of reform took place.

During her tenure as Assistant Sheriff heading up the custody division for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, McDonald had a reputation as a hands-on administrator who walked the floors of the facilities, talking to staff and to inmates, encouraging everyone—inmates and deputies both— to let her know where they saw problems.

She also already has a good relationship with the board of supervisors, which is a big plus.

McDonald has spent most of her career in the field of adult corrections facilities, beginning as a corrections officer for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and working her way up. When former sheriff Lee Baca recruited her to come to the sheriff’s department in March 2013, after the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence issued its scathing report in Sept 2012, she had spent 24 years with the CDCR. How well that experience translates to what will be required at probation, which is different than an agency concerned purely with custody, is not clear.

On one hand, McDonald is definitely reform minded, and has broad experience instituting reform in the state’s prison system, in addition to what she has accomplished in LA County.

“I was raised by lifers,” McDonald once told us of her tenure at the CDCR, which we took to mean that inmates had taught her a great deal that was of value and formative. This same POV was evidenced in the way she interacted with jail inmates, whether they were locked-up on something minor, or had just been adjudicated on a serious criminal case, and were waiting to be shipped to state prison: McDonald offered basic respect to the jail inmates in the county’s care whom she encountered, and expected respect in return, and generally got it. As a consequence, she made the LA County jail system more humane, both for inmates and staff.

Yet, certain distressing problems, while lessened, still remain in the county’s jails. Extravagant uses of force went down, but inmate attacks on deputies went up, as did lower level uses of force by deputies. And there were the “tethering’ incidents. Some line staff blamed what they felt were unclear policies.

Those who question whether McDonald is the ideal fit to head the county’s probation agency, point to the fact that the supervisors have been saying for months that redefining LA County’s juvenile system to focus on rehabilitation and effective treatment, not behavior control and punishment, is job one, and will be the issue topmost in the board’s collective mind when they are choosing a new chief.

McDonald has scant experience in the juvenile field. So while she has obvious skill and breadth of experience on the adult side of things, some of those whom we spoke with asked if she can be the transformative leader so sorely needed when it comes to kids under the county’s supervision. Maybe she can. But the question needs to be asked.

Moreover, some justice advocates point out that when McDonald was reforming the jails, she had help in the form of a looming federal consent decree, the ACLU’s giant Rosas lawsuit—the settlement of which, forced certain changes—and the 197 pages of criticisms and recommendations from the CCJV, which the board—and the new sheriff, Jim McDonald—wanted instituted.

At probation, the new chief—whether it is McDonald or someone else-–will, at this point, have no such legal instruments that she—or he— can use as levers to counter the inevitable resistance that accompanies any systemic change—although, with any luck, there will be an oversight body soon created that will help a new chief drive reform. (More on that at another time.)

As KPCC’s Rina Palta pointed out when McDonald was first hired at the LASD, her former boss, Matt Cate, at the CDCR described her as a highly ethical administrator who “does not suffer fools well.” All this is very good—or can be.

Yet, whoever becomes chief is going to have to deal with the county’s labor unions, without either alienating their hard-working members, as former Chief Jerry Powers did with calamitous results, or being mowed down in every disagreement with union leadership, as was the case with Powers’ predecessor, Donald Blevins.

At the same time, according to those close to the department, there are some problematic players in leadership positions in probation, along with pockets of toxic culture that have been allowed to remain among the staff. Whoever is selected to lead the organization will need to have the clarity, guts, and management skill to successfully roll the necessary heads.

Is Terri McDonald that person? And can she also provide the necessary leadership on the juvenile side? Again, these questions are among those that must be answered before the board should move ahead with its selection.


SHEILA MITCHELL

Sheila Mitchell is considered a juvenile justice hero by many because of the notable reform she instituted as chief of probation in Santa Clara County on the juvenile side of the agency she ran for nearly ten years.

Although Santa Clara is obviously much smaller than LA County, the department that Mitchell took over in 2004 was reportedly a hot mess, strongly emphasizing punishment over anything that resembled rehabilitation on the adult and the juvenile side. The DOJ was investigating the department’s juvenile hall for alleged civil rights violations, there were dozens of reports of “staff-inflicted injuries” in the place, and the place had turned into a lawsuit factory.

When Mitchell left her post as Santa Clara’s chief, the county’s main juvenile facility, the William F. James Ranch, was considered the state’s most innovative and highly successful residential program for kids, which used as its inspiration the nationally lauded “Missouri model.” Whereas, for the first 50 years of its life, the James Ranch had been focused only on behavior control.

Plus under Mitchell, probation made good use of community alternatives—like a well run treatment-oriented day center—to keep kids out of residential facilities altogether, and dramatically lower recidivism rates.

In addition, Mitchell and those she put in top positions, managed to work with the county’s unions in such a way that a highly problematic staff culture in juvenile probation was able to be substantively transformed to the point that the James Ranch was being run by treatment-oriented, kid-centered staff members, not guards.

On the adult side of probation, Mitchell instituted such system changes as improving education outcomes for Santa Clara County adult probationers and parolees, thus easing their successful transition back into their communities.

But, could Mitchell’s Santa Clara experience apply to LA County’s huge, troubled and complicated probation goliath? (She was Assistant Chief Probation Officer at Alameda County probation, the state’s closest analogue to LA, and prior to that she was the Deputy Commissioner for the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice, all of which should help.)

Moreover, does Mitchell really want the job? Since she retired from Santa Clara’s top spot in 2013, she has consulted with various probation departments, (which she has been doing for LA County’s Camp Kilpatrick project, which like Santa Clara’s James Ranch, aims to create its own treatment focused, “trauma-informed” model). Then in April of this year, she took the job of Chief Operating Office for an agency called Unity Care, which provides services for “at‐risk and foster youth.”

The Unity Care experience has reportedly imbued Mitchell still more insight and fervor to help fundamentally change the way we deal with the kids who wind up in our various county systems.

Yet, according to some well-placed sources, Mitchell may not be sure if she wants to jump back into an all-consuming situation that leading LA County Probation would require. And there have been doubts about whether she’d be willing to relocate to Los Angeles.

Is that true? If so, has it changed? Is she now all in? Getting those questions answered will be important part of the Supes selection task.


DAVE MITCHELL

Dave Mitchell’s supporters contend that, save interim probation chief Cal Remington, Mitchell is the person in the high echelon’ of the probation department who is most committed to and best understands juvenile reform.

According to those who have worked with him, Mitchell is intelligent, highly capable, cares very much about kids, and knows a great deal about the problems that need to be solved in the agency, particularly in the juvenile realm.

Yet those who are rooting for one of the other four candidates suggest that, while Dave Mitchell is likely someone to groom to be chief in the future, he may not have the ideal experience to move into the top spot just yet, but that he is one of the people most necessary to a new leadership mix, to help take the department in a new and healthier direction.


MARGARITA PEREZ

Margarita Perez was recruited by former probation chief Jerry Powers to leave her position in state parole and come to Los Angeles to head up probation’s new responsibilities as the agency was tasked with overseeing men and women who, through state legislation known as AB109, suddenly landed on the county’s doorstep instead of that of the state, as part of California’s prison realignment strategy, which began in October 2011, a few months before Powers was sworn in as chief.

Before she retired last year, Perez was generally well respected inside the department by the rank and file, who saw her as someone unafraid to put on a flack vest, and get her hands dirty, so to speak, in order find out how the folks working the front lines were doing.

She is also viewed by many as a talented and respected administrator and supervisor who is firmly reform-minded on the adult side of probation. They point to her emphasis on rehabilitative services designed to help probationers do better when they reenter their communities, with the idea of lowering return trips to jail or prison.

By the way, Perez was selected to serve as chief briefly (after Jerry Powers “retired” under a cloud) until interim chief Cal Remington could free his schedule and take over the reins.

Although Perez was hired by Powers, when she left the department she reportedly wrote a sober-minded, no-punches-pulled exit letter about what was wrong at the agency, and who inside it had to go if it was to move forward toward health.

Those who do not favor Perez for the job of chief, point to her lack of any experience on the juvenile side of things, which is in desperate need of a visionary leader. Also, as is the case with Dave Mitchell, this is a moment when anybody promoted from within is going to be a tough sale.


DONNA GROMAN

Judge Donna Groman, is the supervising judge of the Los Angeles County Juvenile Delinquency Court at the Kenyon Juvenile Justice Center in South LA. Groman was named the California Judges Association Juvenile Court Judge of the Year for 2012, and is a very well-regarded as a jurist who cares very much about the well being of the kids who pass through her courtroom, and through the juvenile system generally.

For instance, Groman is known for making sure that planning for the future is a big part of managing each kid’s case that comes before her, which means assessing things such as a kids’ behavioral and mental health needs, along with educational needs, and other basic issues that must be in place if a kid is to thrive after he or she leaves a probation facility.

Groman has also been an important advocate for such issues as school discipline reform, pushing for kids to be kept in school rather than cited and/or suspended for such minor school-related infractions as tardiness, or truancy. In addition, she been a strong and effective voice for reforming the role that school police play on campus, for the treatment of sexually trafficked children, restorative justice, and for extended foster care and independent living services for youth aging out of the foster care system.

Yet, the role of chief is an administrative position. So is Groman’s experience on the bench, as an attorney, and as an effective juvenile reform advocate enough to make her the right candidate to run a law enforcement agency of the size and complexity of LA County probation, which has more than ‪6500 employees—ninety percent of whom are sworn peace officers—and supervises ‪12,000 state parolees, 60,000 adult probationers, and around 2,800 kids, either in its various facilities or in home placement, all on a budget of $830 million?

Well, maybe so. But, this is yet another question that the supervisors need to carefully consider of Groman and every other candidate as the board moves forward with its selection process.

So stay tuned.


POST SCRIPT

Jeremy Loudenback, writing for the Chronicle of Social Change, first broke the story that Sheila Mitchell and Terri McDonald were among the top five being considered. Then we ferretted out the rest of the list, plus who was supporting whom. We recommend you read Loudenback’s informative story, plus this story in WLA he wrote earlier in the process that was adapted from a still earlier story produced for CSC.

Posted in Probation | 24 Comments »

Probation Officials Report Spike in Force in LA County’s Juvenile Halls

August 18th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


USE OF FORCE IS UP LA COUNTY’S JUVENILE HALLS

According to probation officials, who were asked to report to the LA County Probation Commission about how often force was used on the kids housed in the county’s three juvenile halls, such force incidents have risen sharply since the beginning of the year.

Both the members of the Probation Commission and the LA County Board of Supervisors have asked Probation higher-ups to come up with data on the agency’s force incidents in its juvenile facilities.

Earlier this month, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to review three years of “critical incidents” that have taken place in the county’s juvenile halls and probation camps. The motion, written by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, also requests information on how internal investigations of such force incidents are handled and how staff are disciplined following critical and non-critical incidents.

The pressure on Probation rose after WitnessLA broke the story of the alleged beating of an unresisting 17-year-old by staff members at Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar.

We also reported a second alleged force incident that reportedly occurred at the county’s Central Juvenile Hall.

The LA Times’ Abby Sewell broke the news about the information made public at last Thursday’s Probation Commission. Here’s a clip from her story:

Overall, monthly use of force incidents increased by 85%, from 55 to 102, at the three county-run juvenile halls — Central Juvenile Hall in Boyle Heights, Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall in Downey and Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar — from January to July, statistics released Thursday by the L.A. County Probation Department show.

At Los Padrinos, the number of reported incidents rose from 12 in January to 31 in July. At Central Juvenile Hall, the number increased from 20 in January to 39 in July; and from 23 to 32 at the Barry J. Nidorf facility.

Each camp holds about 200 youths awaiting court action in their cases or transfer to other facilities.

The total number of force incidents remained relatively stable early in 2016 and dipped slightly in March, but spiked in June and July.

Probation officials who presented the statistics at a probation commission meeting Thursday said any time a staffer places hands on a youth, including to break up a fight between minors, a use-of-force report is triggered.

Department spokeswoman Kerri Webb said there could be “a variety of reasons” for the overall increase.

“While we do regularly review these incidents, we’re assessing this specific information to identify the reasons for the fluctuations,” she said in an email. “It’s too soon to know now what the results of the analysis are.”

Posted in juvenile justice, Probation | 1 Comment »

LA County Supes Vote to Investigate Abuse Allegations Within Juvenile Lock-Ups

August 3rd, 2016 by Taylor Walker

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to review three years of “critical incidents” that have taken place in the county’s juvenile halls and probation camps.

The Supervisors were alerted to allegations of probation staff abuse against kids within the county’s juvenile facilities after WitnessLA broke a story about an incident in April at a juvenile hall in Sylmar involving the alleged beating of a non-combative 17-year-old housed at the facility by four probation staff, while a fifth, a supervisor, watched. The beating incident was captured on video by a camera installed in the teen’s room.

Last week, WLA reported on a second alarming incident—this one at Central Juvenile Hall in May. A county employee witnessed a senior Detention Services Officer roughly handling a physically small 14-year-old who had already been restrained on the ground. When the boy said that the DSO was hurting him, the officer yanked the boy up by the back of his sweatshirt, reportedly causing the boy to choke. The teen retaliated by calling the DSO the N-word. According to the witness’s account, things spiraled from there.

With three juvenile halls and thirteen probation camps, Los Angeles County is home to the largest juvenile justice system in the nation. Ridley-Thomas says the reported staff abuses “underscore that more reforms are needed to protect young people and promote institutional accountability. The County’s response to these occurrences can be just as significant over time as the events themselves.”

Tuesday’s motion—which Supe. Ridley-Thomas read in during last week’s board meeting—directs the County CEO to coordinate with the interim Chief Probation Officer, Director of the Dept. of Mental Health, and the Director of the Dept. of Health Services, and return to the board in 45 days with a report that includes Probation’s policies and procedures for reporting incidents like the ones that occurred at the two juvenile halls, an exact definition of what constitutes a “critical incident” versus a “non-critical” incident (and how probation staff make that determination), whether the department’s policies and protocols address the underlying causes of the conflicts between kids and probation staff, and what kind of medical attention and trauma-informed care is provided to youth—both before and in response to an incident.

“Trauma-informed, timely responses that emphasize healing, coordination, and accountability should be the norm and the protocol, not the exception,” Ridley-Thomas said in the motion.

The motion also requests information on how internal investigations are handled and how staff are disciplined following critical and non-critical incidents.

Then, within 90 days, the county’s Auditor-Controller, in coordination with the Interim Chief Probation Officer, the Chief Executive Officer, the Chief Attorney of the Office of the Independent Monitor, the Director of the Office of Child Protection, and County Counsel will report back to the board with an analysis of three years of critical incidents that have occurred within the juvenile camps and halls.

“It is a priority of the Board of Supervisors that we do all that we can to make sure those who are in our custody and care are treated as they should be, consistent with the law, and with the basic principles and practices of decency,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said.

Posted in juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, Probation | No Comments »

A Disturbing Report of Another Assault of a Teenager by a Los Angeles County Probation Staffer

July 28th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon



On May 31 of this year, another incident of alleged abuse of a teenage probationer
by Los Angeles County Probation staff reportedly occurred in a county juvenile facility. This most recent reported assault took place at Central Juvenile Hall, located on Eastlake Avenue, east of downtown LA.

Unlike the April 2016 beating of a seventeen-year-old boy by four probation staff members at another LA County Probation juvenile facility—that WitnessLA reported last month— this time there was no video of the incident.

But there were witnesses. And the event was deemed serious enough that at least one witness called the police.

We have obtained a written account from one of the witnesses. This source is not a probation staff member but a member of another county agency that has personnel working in LA’s juvenile halls and camps.

According to the witness, the incident began at around 10 a.m. in what is known as the B-wing of the aging facility. A male student had been kicked out of class for a reason that was unknown to the witness. (We have since heard from a source inside probation that the student was being “disruptive” in some manner.)

Once the student was asked to leave class, he entered the hallway outside the classroom where he was intercepted by probation staff who presumably had been alerted to his impending exit.

According to the witness, the student was “restrained by three probation staff,” who initially, she wrote, shoved him to the floor and handcuffed the boy, who is 14-years-old, and reportedly physically small. According to our source, he was also an “RSP” student. (RSP stands for Resource Specialist Program, which means he had some kind of learning designation that qualified him for special education.)

The problem began, according to the witness’s account, when a senior Detention Services Officer—or DSO—began to pull the now-handcuffed kid from the floor to a standing position. But, because the boy was face down with his hands restrained behind his back, the pulling motion yanked his arms up and back in such a way that the boy found painful.

“You’re hurting me” he said. According to the witness, the DSO appeared to be irritated by the complaint so pulled the kid up even harder, this time using the back of his sweatshirt to do the yanking, which reportedly caused the sweatshirt to produce a visible choking effect.

The handcuffed kid retaliated by calling the DSO the N-word. According to the witness’s account, things went rapidly downhill from there.

The senior DSO reportedly “got very upset” and bunched the back of student’s sweatshirt with his hand and yanked, further choking the student “while [the] student is trying to tell him” that he is being choked.

“Tell me again and I’ll do it harder!’ the DSO reportedly yelled at the kid.

The 15-year-old boy immediately took the DSO up on the offer.

“N—-r! N—-r! N—-r! N—-r! N—-r! N—-r!” he shouted.

Meanwhile, the senior DSO “kept pulling him straight up” with the student’s sweatshirt, and the student reportedly kept choking.

“It was unpleasant to me to…witness this,” wrote our source, since the “student is already handcuff[ed] and restrained” and the boy “had no other way to defend himself.”

That’s when somebody called the Hollenbeck division of the Los Angeles Police Department.

After the police had come and gone, according to the witness’s account, probation staff members approached an administrator in charge of the LA County Office of Education (LACOE) workers present in the hall. (Both LACOE staff and some Department of Mental Health–DMH–witnessed the incident.)

“If your staff is going to be snitching,” the probation staffer reportedly said to the administrator, “then we won’t be here to help with nothing.” In the days to follow, according to the witness, various DSOs attempted to question civilian staff “to find out who made the report.”

Some of the civilian witnesses who saw the senior DSO allegedly manhandle and “choke” the teenager with the kid’s sweatshirt, talked to other volunteers who were present that day, one of whom talked to us with alarm about what he’d heard of the incident, which matched our witness’s written account.

LA County Probation Chief Cal Remington, told WitnessLA he was aware of the choking incident but could not comment in detail, due to legal constraints. “Anytime there is an incident of hands placed on a kid, we expect reports,” Remington said. “We review those reports, and we take the incident very seriously.” This incident was no exception, he said. “The investigation for this alleged incident is still ongoing.”

Yet, other county officials say they are disturbed by this newly reported incident. And when the topic came up briefly on Wednesday morning at the LA County Probation Commission meeting, several commissioners who had heard anecdotal accounts of the so-called “choking” expressed dismay that—as with the story of beating of a 17-year-old in Sylmar—they were not getting any information or notification from probation officials, but only learning about these alleged occurrences through back-door sources.

“On May 31 a kid was choked by a supervisor to a point that was so bad…the police were called,” commissioner Azael “Sal” Martinez-Sonoqui said to probation higher-up who was at the meeting to answer questions on another topic. “And yet nobody here was notified!” (We profiled Sal Martinez here.)

Commissioner Cyn Yamashiro expressed a similar frustration. (Yamashiro is also the founding executive director of the Center for Juvenile Law and Policy at Loyola Law School.) “I thought we had moved past this notion of ‘hide-the-ball,’” he said. But today, he continued, feels like “we’re returning to the way it used to be.”

With like concerns in mind, at Tuesday’s board of supervisor’s meeting, supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas proposed a motion that asks probation for, among other things, data on the “types and prevalence” of “critical incidents”—such as the two reported here—that have occurred over the past three years in the county’s three juvenile halls, and thirteen probation camps.

Posted in Juvenile Probation, Probation | No Comments »

LA County Board of Supes to Consider Funding Homeboy Industries to Do the Job It’s Been Doing for Free for the County for Years – UPDATED

May 3rd, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


UPDATE: On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors
passed the motion described below, with four of the board members voting yes. Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas abstained.


On Tuesday the board of supervisors will vote on an unusual motion, which proposes offer a yearlong, $1.5 million contract to Homeboy Industries to do the work that they’ve been doing anyway for the county, which is helping formerly gang-involved and previously incarcerated men and women in LA County by giving them the tools and support to allow them to redirect their lives and become contributing members of our community—instead of cycling in and out of jail or prison or both.

(If you’re unfamiliar with the details of what Homeboy does, you can find it here.)

The motion is co sponsored by Supervisor Don Knabe, and Supervisor Hilda Solis. You can find the text here, but it amounts to this:

LA County Probation is sitting on an absurd pile of unused state money that is mandated to be used on programs that do exactly what Homeboy provides.

Here’s the deal.

As we’ve reported in the past, LA County receives a yearly bunch of cash from California’s SB 678 fund, which is a performance-based program that shares with California’s counties some of the money saved by the state through AB 109 prison realignment. The counties are, in turn, supposed to spend their SB 678 dollars on “evidence-based” programs to help adult probationers restart their lives and to avoid future visits to jail or prison, thus saving the state and county additional money.

LA County probation began receiving SB 678 funds in FY 2011-2012. But, while they took the money, they did almost nothing at all with it. Thus by May 2015, a county audit discovered that department had amassed an astonishing $140.5 million in SB 678 funds—which former probation chief, Jerry Powers and company reportedly failed to mention to the board of supervisors or anyone else. Meanwhile, instead of spending the funds on much-needed programs, either of probation’s own creation or on existing community-based programs, they simply sat on the cash, which—according to our sources—has now grown to $145 million or more.

Now, as AB 109/prison realignment moves into its 5th year of operation, and Prop. 47 moves is one and 1/3 years old, it’s in everyone’s best interest that the county takes some of those SB 678 bucks that its been stuffing under the mattress, and use it on evidence-based programs aimed at the people for which it was intended—programs like Homeboy Industries provides to hundreds of men and women every year.

(By the way, did I mention that the $140 plus million has been languishing all this time in a non-interest bearing account? Who in the world was overseeing these decisions? Oh, yeah, right. Never mind.)

Which brings us back to the motion pertaining to Homeboy.

According to Nick Ippolito, Assistant Chief of Staff for Supervisor Knabe, the motion accomplishes a couple of things. First of all it would allow the county to start funding a program, and then over time, multiple programs, that work with the population that the county is most interested in working with—namely former and current offenders released from jail or prison who, if they can be prevented from recidivating, while save the county and the state a bunch of money, and will contribute greatly to the cause of public safety..

With this in mind, “we’ve been trying to form a strategic relationship with Homeboy for some time,” Ippolito said. “I don’t know of any other organization that works with their documented level of success with individuals who have been hardcore gang members.” But, he said, “Homeboy industries clients aren’t sent to them by a judge or a probation officer, they come in on their own, when they’re ready.”

There are plenty of organizations “who work well with non-violent AB 109-ers,” Ippolito continued, “but not with this population. And we want to figure out the best service model to help this population. But we want to do that without trying to turn Homeboy into a fee-for-service agency,” which are the kind of programs that probation generally contracts with, Ippolito said. “But that’s not how Homeboy turns lives around.”

Yet, despite the fact that Homeboy has been helping the men and women that the county most wants to reach, the county has rarely given the organization even the smallest about of funding.

“Homeboy has done their work almost exclusively through private donations, and through their enterprises like their bakery” said Ippolito, not government money. “So how do we support them without screwing up their model?”

Enter Tuesday’s motion—which, if it passes, would allow the board to take a small portion of that hoarded 678 money and enter into an agreement with Homeboy for 12 months, a contract that would establish a pilot that will allow the county, according to Ippolito, to figure out how to work with Homeboy and other “innovative organizations whose work the county should be funding,” but whose model doesn’t fit into the county’s neat little funding boxes.

Or, as the motion says, Homeboy offers “a service template that doesn’t fit neatly into the traditional, referral-based models the County is accustomed to administering.”

According to both Ippolito and Supervisor Knabe, the sort of “sole source” funding the motion proposes, where a contract is offered to one program specifically, with no competitive bidding, is also not usually the kind of thing the supervisors the county does. But, this situation warrants it, they say.

And in the next round, according to the motion, after a year of the pilot program with Homeboy, the county would open the opportunity, through a conventional competative bidding process, to other programs that, like Homeboy, utilize “the elements of research based, best practice models to address behavior change in previously incarcerated men, women and high-risk youth seeking reentry services.”

Sounds like a good idea to us.

We’ll let you know what happens.


JUVENILE SOLITARY

We will also be closely tracking the vote on another very important motion proposed by Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis to “end juvenile solitary confinement in LA County.” More on that after we see how the vote goes. (It is expected to pass.)


EDITOR’S NOTE: In the interest of transparency, I need to disclose, for those who don’t already know, that I have a strong bias in the direction of Homeboy Industries, mainly because I wrote a book about Father Greg Boyle, Homeboy’s founder, and have been reporting on him, and the organization that he built, and the homeboys and homegirls who’ve come in and out of Homeboy, since 1990.

But this also means, I’ve had a front row seat to watch hundreds of people manage, with Fr. Greg’s and Homeboy’s help, to reroute the trajectory of their lives against staggering odds. In a bunch of cases, I’ve tracked those same people over time—which means sometimes, I’ve seen them backslide, occasionally tragically. But most of the time, the stutter-step back was just a normal part of the complicated and very human task of making one’s way into a transformed and hopeful future. To put it another way, in more than a quarter century of observing Homeboy Industries, I’ve gotten to witness a whole lot of real, no-kidding miracles.

So, yes, speaking personally, I really hope this motion passes.

Posted in Homeboy Industries, Probation | 7 Comments »

FOLLOW THE MONEY: Who Makes the Decisions About How to Spend LA’s Juvenile Justice Millions?

April 25th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

FOLLOW THE MONEY

There are various large pots of state and national dollars that are funneled to Los Angeles and most of California’s other 57 counties to be spent on juvenile justice and other justice reforms.

Yet, the issue of who decides what money is sent where and then, at a local level, how those dollars get spent, are both matters that largely fly under the radar when it comes to public awareness.

With a new WitnessLA series called Follow the Money we aim to change all that.



AN UNEXPECTED MUTINY

Earlier this month, on Monday, April 6, a mutiny occurred in the world of juvenile justice spending at the meeting of something known as the LA County Juvenile Justice Coordinating Council or JJCC.

(Our OpEd last week by Children’s Defense Fund-California executive director, Alex Johnson, talked about some of what occurred at the April 6 meeting, and what needs to happen next. Today we’re going further.)

The primary job of the JJCC—a group most of you have likely never heard of—-is to decide how a pot of around $30 million in juvenile justice money is spent each year by LA County Probation to—at least theoretically—help the county’s at risk kids.

The pot of money that the JJCC votes on annually about this time is called JJCPA funding.

(Yes, I realize that all these similar acronyms—-JJCC and JJCPA—are confusing, but stay with me.)

In the past, the JJCC has voted—with no objections, and with very few questions—to approve the yearly juvenile justice budget exactly as LA County Probation presents it.

But not this time.


SO WHAT IS THE JJCPA ANYWAY?

To understand the nature of the mutiny that took place on April 6, it helps to have a little history:

The Juvenile Justice Crime Prevention Act (JJCPA) program was created by the Crime Prevention Act of 2000 to provide a stable funding source for local juvenile justice programs aimed at keeping kids who’ve tangled with the juvenile justice system from returning, and to help kids at risk of winding up in the system from entering it in the first place.

The main source of income for this stream of money is our vehicle license fees.

As mentioned above, every year, LA County gets around $30 million in JJCPA dollars from the state.

Although each county gets to decide the specifics of how it spends its JJCPA money, there are strict parameters that govern that spending—as dictated by the legislation that created the funds to begin with. For example, the state requires any and all county funded JJCPA programs to be “modeled on strategies that have demonstrated effectiveness in curbing juvenile delinquency.”

In other words, the funds may only be used on programs that have been proven to actually work. To make sure California’s counties abide by the rules, the legislation also requires counties to collect and document what outcomes their various JJCPA programs have produced.

Again, the local body that is supposed to be making decisions and overseeing all this on a local level is the Juvenile Justice Coordinating Council (JJCC).

To make sure the local JJCCs aren’t being controlled by any particular vested interest as they decide how to give out their JJCPA money, the state mandates the make-up of the council to be as follows:

[It] shall, at a minimum, include the chief probation officer, as chair, and one representative each from the district attorney’s office, the public defender’s office, the sheriff’s department, the board of supervisors, the department of social services, the department of mental health, a community-based drug and alcohol program, a city police department, the county office of education or a school district, and an at-large community representative. … [The] coordinating council shall also include representatives from nonprofit community-based organizations providing services to minors.

And a lot of counties do just that.

For instance, in Ventura County (where LA’s interim probation chief, Cal Remington was the probation chief from 1997 to 2007, the JJCC is quite active and transparent.


LOS ANGELES COUNTY EXCEPTIONALISM—AND NOT THE GOOD KIND

Los Angeles, however—which has the state’s largest juvenile justice system, the most kids under the supervision of the county’s probation department, and is in receipt of the largest yearly pot of JJCPA money—seems to make only a half-hearted effort to follow some of the state rules. The rest of the JJCPA rules, not so much.

Specifically, when it comes to the JJCC, Los Angeles County is not in legal compliance. Period. There are exactly zero representatives from the LA County Board of Supervisors on the JJCC, zero from social services (Department of Children and Family Services), zero from any community based drug and alcohol program, zero in the way of an at-large community representative and, most importantly, zero, zip, nada and nobody from the community based organizations that are required to be—but assuredly are not—partners in the endeavor—all despite years of memos, emails, in-person complaints, and random begging for probation to follow the state’s legal rules.

Moreover, some of the existing members don’t bother to show up to many of the meetings.

And those who do show up reportedly do little more than simply rubber stamp what LA County Probation presents, according to juvenile advocates and others who make a point of attending the JJCC meetings to observe.

On April 6, the council was expected to vote to approve the most recent JJCPA budget, as outlined by probation, and everyone assumed the vote would move forward without a hitch.

But, this time, before the council could vote, some of the juvenile advocates again made the point that this was not a “legally constituted council,” that the council’s make-up was against what the state law requires. In particular, they said, there were no representatives from the supes offices on the council, and nobody from the community-based organizations, and no at-large community representative.

Unlike in the past, however, this time some of the council members paid attention. So when it came time to vote on the two scheduled agenda items, one of them the new yearly JJCPA budget—which had to be sent to the state by May 1—all at once there was not the normal level of blind cooperation.


MUTINY BECOMES CONTAGEOUS

Anne Tremblay, a bright and very capable woman who is on the JJCC by virtue of being the director of Mayor Garcetti’s Office of Gang Reduction & Youth Development (GRYD), was alarmed at what she was hearing about the group not being a “legally constituted council.” Tremblay explained that, under the circumstances, she did not feel she could vote to approve anything—or words to that effect—-so was going to abstain.

Tremblay’s action was contagious. Suddenly there were more abstentions than there were yes votes. This unexpected mutiny spelled big trouble for probation, given the must-pass nature of the budget.

Finally someone suggested that the council could, in part, rectify the situation by electing a community-representative-at-large from those in the audience. After that, they could also draft at least someone from one of the supervisors’ offices. Then,in the very near future, maybe the council could finally make themselves fully legal by adding the rest of the needed members.

With this in mind, one of the council members nominated Carol Biondi to serve as the community representative at-large. Biondi is a member of the Children’s Commission, and one of the juvenile advocates who was observing. Biondi agreed to serve, at least on an interim basis.

Next, someone from Supervisor Hilda Solis’s office, who was also observing, called to get emergency permission from her office to join the council for a vote.

And so it was that the latest JJCPA budget was passed and—after years of flouting state requirements—LA County’s Juvenile Justice Coordinating Council finally took some steps in the direction of legality. Plus some of the council members seem to have, at least for now, snapped to something resembling wakefulness.

It was a small step in the right direction.

Yet, it’s essential that the trend continues.

In the meantime, next we’ll look at some of the larger issues—like the problems with how LA County will actually be spending its recently budgeted JJCPA money.

And more.

So stay tuned.

Posted in Probation | No Comments »

Probation Chief Cal Remington Moves Quickly to Investigate Report of “Deplorable Conditions” In LA County’s Juvenile Hall

March 17th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


ALARMING REPORT TRIGGERS SPEEDY INVESTIGATION & “REMEDIATION”

Earlier this week we wrote about the release of a report that described “deplorable” conditions in some of the units where kids are living in LA County’s Central Juvenile Hall, which at present houses around 200 kids, both male and female. The report was written by Azael “Sal” Martinez, a member of LA County’s 15-member civilian probation commission, after he made an unannounced visit to the system’s largest juvenile hall on February 14, Valentine’s Day, and documented his observations, some of which were quite alarming.

Martinez’ report alleged, among other things, that there was a great deal of graffiti—much of it gang graffiti—on the walls and other surfaces of several of the units he inspected, including in the kids’ individual rooms, in the bathrooms and elsewhere.

Martinez also wrote about appallingly filthy bathrooms, and clogged toilets and urinals that filled one unit with an awful stench.

And there was lots more, including allegations of a kid kept in the hall’s solitary unit for an extended period of time over something trivial.

(You can find additional details here.)

After our story ran, we spoke at length with interim Probation Chief Cal Remington, who talked about the immediate steps he and the department have taken to investigate Martinez’ allegations, and then to remediate problems, as necessary.

Remington, if you’ll remember, is the interim replacement for former LA County Probation Chief Jerry Powers who officially left his position on January 4. The highly regarded and well-liked Remington will be the person guiding the department until a national search results in the hiring of a new permanent chief to lead ongoing reform efforts at the nation’s largest probation department.

“We’re going to be transparent about these kinds of issues,” Remington said of Martinez’ report. “We don’t want to hide anything.” Remington said he welcomes input from the probation commission and its commissioners, but would like the process to be more formalized, to insure that staff doesn’t feel blindsided. “We all have the same purpose. We want things to improve. “

At Remington’s direction, the department’s internal affairs investigators divided Martinez’s complaints into eleven allegations, which investigators then scrutinized and, where necessary, corrected.

The confidential report that resulted from the investigation was delivered to each of the five members of the board of supervisors, the county CEO, Sachi Hamai, Presiding Juvenile Court Judge Michael Levanas, and others.

The three page report found four of the eleven allegations to be “substantiated.”

For example, as Martinez reported, the investigators found there was plenty of graffiti and the affected surfaces were washed and painted.

Similarly, investigators found that the tile floors surrounding some of the toilets were indeed filthy, and other bathroom areas afflicted with “grit, calcification, rust and corrosion.” The bathrooms were reportedly subsequently scrubbed and, in some cases, tiles flooring was scheduled for replacement, and a quarterly deep cleaning service is being procured.

Internal affairs and company marked as “unsubstantiated” Martinez’ allegation of a boy being wrongly put into in juvenile hall’s SHU for 16 hours, although the report offered no details as to the reasons behind findings.

Still, Chief Remington spoke to us about the changes that are in motion regarding the department’s policy when in comes to solitary confinement.

We’e going through a process right now where we’re going to get rid of solitary confinement,” he said. “You just don’t need to do it. You need some kind of time out. But you don’t need solitary. And we’re developing protocols to make sure that kids are only in for short periods. We’re going to change that culture.”


WE OWE IT TO A KID TO HAVE A CLEAN ENVIRONMENT

In addition, investigators reportedly found no evidence of the “stench,” that Martinez reported coming from the toilets.

Another allegation that was confusingly listed as “unsubstantiated” was Martinez’ report that probationers’ personal possessions were being used as doorstops to prop open doors in the purportedly stench-afflicted unit. These personal items included a kid’s shoe, and most alarmingly, a personal Bible.

While investigators did find the shoe and a book resembling a Bible were being used as doorstops, according to the internal affairs report, it turned out the offending doorstop was not actually a Bible, but rather some other kind of book with a binding that made it look like a Bible. In any case, real doorstops have now replaced probationers’ personal items to hold upon the unit’s doors.

And, on the topic of the “stench,” another probation source whom we spoke told us that, indeed, there has been an awful smell in one of the hall’s units, but it was due to the age of some parts of the building and its plumbing.

(Central Juvenile Hall is a badly aging complex that is overdue to be replaced, and Chief Remington said that proposals for renovation or replacement are in the works.)

Our source also reported that, in the case of Martinez’ visit to the hall, supervisors on duty failed to accompany him on his inspection, and the line staff in some of the problematic units he visited were mostly new and inexperienced, so were not able to provide needed information.

“The probation commissioners have every right to come unannounced to the facilities, since their job is to advocate for the kids,” said our source, who asked not to be named. But some of the staff, he said, foolishly see the commissioners as an inconvenience. “And that’s a big mistake. They are a reminder that we have a standard and we need to uphold it.”

John Tuchek, 1st vice president SEIU 721, the probation supervisors union, agreed. “I know that some of the staff doesn’t like what Sal [Martinez] wrote. But we need to hold staff accountable.” And things like graffiti on the walls, and filth around toilets in probationer’s living spaces, have a corrosive affect, he said.

“We owe it to a kid to have a clean environment.” But graffiti left unremoved “turns an area into a hostile environment for kids who have come out of a hostile environment at home,” said Tuchek who is also a longtime supervising probation officer who worked in the department’s gang unit earlier in his career.

Otherwise, he said, “a kid looks at the walls and thinks, ‘If they allow this go on, and they can’t stop it, how are they going to keep me safe?’ And it’s our job to make these kids feel safe.” A kid who doesn’t feel safe is more likely to act out, he said. “Staff needs to understand that.”

Near the end of our conversation, Cal Remington emphasized similar points. “We can’t forget that some of these kids have been through a lot of trauma in their lives,” he said. “We are finally understanding that.” The department is working to train staff to understand the role of trauma in kids’ behavior, Remington said. “A knowledgable staff makes a big difference.”

Likely so. Even when it comes to making sure layers of graffiti, grit and grime without reports having to force the issue.

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Report Alleges Deplorable Conditions, Misuse of Solitary Confinement, and Leadership Failure at LA County’s Juvenile Hall

March 14th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon



LIKE A THIRD WORLD COUNTRY PRISON”

On Valentine’s Day of this year, which was a Sunday, Los Angeles County Probation commissioner Azael “Sal” Martinez showed up unannounced at the county’s Central Juvenile Hall to do an inspection, and what he discovered alarmed him.

Much of the reason Martinez came to LA county’s largest juvenile hall that day was to bring bags full of valentine cards and candy for the kids who were locked up in the place. But he also came to juvenile hall to review conditions at the facility itself.

“My role is to make sure that the kids are okay, and that the plant is livable,” he has said in the past about these site reviews.

According to the official report he wrote after his visit, Martinez found instead “deplorable conditions” throughout much of the facility.

Sal Martinez is a former teenage gang member and drug dealer who rerouted his life to become a highly respected community activist who is on his second term as a member of the LA County’s Probation Commission, appointed for a seat on the 15-member body by LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis.

(Former supervisor Gloria Molina selected Martinez for his first term on the commission.)

Martinez does not take his responsibilities lightly. In addition to attending the commission’s twice-monthly meetings, he is also what he describes as “a field commissioner.” In practical terms, this means he makes unannounced visits to the department’s various juvenile facilities, like central juvenile hall.

After each visit, he writes a report about what he sees, which is distributed to his boss, Supervisor Solis, to higher ups inside the probation department, including to the chief. And then, eventually, it goes to the commission, where it enters the public record.

Probation department officials who work at the sites Martinez visits are reportedly not always entirely thrilled by the commissioner’s habit of parachuting in without advance warning. But Martinez wants to see the house as it really is, so to speak, not after it has been tidied up to impress the guests.

Last year, for example, Martinez made unscheduled visits to four of the county’s regional offices where juvenile probation officers are supposed to meet with their young clients as part of the department’s new Camp Community Transition Program (CCTP). The program, which was put into place two years ago, is meant to provide services for young people transitioning from a juvenile camp, hall or other placement to their home community. However, what Martinez found at the four CCTP offices he visited, raised “serious issues and concerns,” he wrote. “The visit was alarming and extremely unacceptable.”

(WitnessLA has the full story on Martinez’ site visits to the CCTP offices here.)

Then, in February of this year, Martinez made the Valentine’s Day visit to Central Juvenile Hall, and the subsequent report describing “deplorable” conditions that he compared to a “Third World country prison.


THE AWFUL STENCH

This was not Martinez’ first site visit to Central Juvenile Hall, as he noted in his latest report. He comes here with some regularity. Thus he expected to find some of the improvements promised at the last visit.

Instead he found a startling list of problems, and what his report alleges to be the failure of leadership to take appropriate steps to solve the problems.

In one unit, for example, there was a pervasive “stench,’ due to urinals and toilets that were “broken, backed up, not cleaned and unsanitary.”

Some were so bad, he wrote, that if a kid attempted to actually use the urinal for its usual purpose, “fermented urine” would “splash back on their shoes and pants.”

When Martinez asked whose job it was to clean the toilets and urinals, he evidently got blank looks. “….No one knew,” he wrote.



DOORSTOP BIBLES AND GANG GRAFFITI

And there were other issues, like the use of kids’ possessions as doorstops to keep some of the probationer’s rooms open in order to let air in, because of the aforementioned ghastly smell that permeated the unit because of the clogged toilets.

“Due to the unbearable stench,” wrote Martinez, “the doors to the rooms are propped open.” But the items used as doorstoppers were the belongings of the probationers. In one case, Martinez noted, the doorstopper was “a minor’s shoe.”

In another case, he wrote, the item on the floor holding open the door was a probationer’s Bible.

Several units of 14-15 boys per unit had no running water at all except in the staff bathrooms.

All 54 of the girls out of the 200 minors in the hall on Valentine’s Day didn’t get their scheduled activity for the day. Instead, according to Martinez’s report, the girls sat around for the activity period, while the staff talked among themselves.

The list goes on.

Martinez also found graffiti—in particular gang graffiti-–in the children’s units, rooms and bathrooms. When he asked staff about this and other issues, according to the report, the staff he spoke with either seemed to feel powerless to change anything, or “saw no problems,” or viewed the issues as “not part of my job.”

Martinez wrote of a “disconnect” between “administration and staff,” leaving the staff with low morale, “complacent,” and feeling “that there will be no accountability.”

“…It appears that no one cares,” Martinez wrote.


OTHER FACILITIES MANAGE TO DO THINGS RIGHT

In his report, Martinez made a point of praising some of the county’s other probation facilities for doing a consistently good job, including Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall, located in Sylmar, and Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall, located in Downey.

“Los Padrinos” he wrote, “has a daily graffiti inspection for both living rooms and bathrooms, and [the] rooms are spotless.”

Martinez also noted that not all the units at Central Juvenile Hall were in the same condition of filth and disrepair as those units that caused him such concern. Certain other units were clean and graffiti free.

So why were the bad units allowed to get so bad?


SOLITARY FOR 16 HOURS BECAUSE OF A FOOD TRADE

Another distressing part of Martinez’ Valentine’s Day report pertained to a boy who was sent for 16 hours to juvenile hall’s Special Housing Unit (SHU), which means solitary confinement. The boy’s offense was trading a carton of milk with another boy for a carton of orange juice—or vice versa.

Food trading with other kids is evidently against the rules. But, there are plenty of ways to appropriately sanction a boy who simply wants a little more of healthful beverage. Sixteen hours in solitary confinement is not one of them. Furthermore, it is against the department’s own rules—which are reportedly to send a kid to solitary for no more than a few hours as a time out, barring an exceptional situation. Martinez wrote that the juvenile hall director he spoke with about the matter admitted that he didn’t believe that the boy should have been sent to the SHU to begin with for such a trivial infraction. Yet, it appears that the boy might have been in isolation far longer than 16 hours, had Martinez not specifically asked for him to be sent back to his home unit.

Common sense suggests that, in all likelihood, if an abuse of solitary confinement for kids occurred during Martinez’ recent visit, it has also occurred in other instances. How many other instances, we have no way of knowing.

The truth is, any one of a number of mid and high level supervisors in the department could or should have walked through juvenile hall and seen these entirely unacceptable problems.

So why didn’t they?

Getting a plumber in to fix toilets and making sure gang graffiti is immediately removed from any wall or floor surfaces is hardly an impossible task.

And, when we have been assured that, in LA, the juvenile SHUs are not being used for prolonged isolation, why are we finding out due to Martinez’ surprise visit, that in fact the practice is still being wrongly used—and for the most preposterously trifling of infractions?

Certainly, there are many things going right in probation, including in juvenile probation. (And we’ll be running some articles on some of the success stories later this year.) But there is still a lot going wrong—especially on the juvenile side, as other reports we’ve covered here, here, and here have made clear.

For these reasons we are grateful to the dedication of probation commissioner Sal Martinez, for his willingness to go to bat for the kids who, as he wrote at the end of his report, “have no voice.”

Martinez, of course, was once one of those kids who spent time in the county’s juvenile halls and camps and felt he had no future—-until a dedicated and talented probation officer took the time to reach out to him and, he says, saved his life.

“I believe I got a second chance,” Martinez tells kids he meets in juvenile hall when he visits. And he wants to make sure they also get the help that they need to stay out of places like juvenile hall in the future.

“That’s why supervisor Solis appointed me.”

We’re very grateful that she did.

Now we wait to see what concrete change comes of Sal Martinez’ latest report.

Posted in Probation | No Comments »

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