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LA Juvenile Probation Camp to Drop Well-known Sports Program, CA Supreme Court Rules Against Overlong Juvie Sentences, and More

August 20th, 2012 by Taylor Walker

EDITOR’S NOTE: For decades, LA County’s juvenile probation camp system has catastrophically failed most of the kids it took into its care, as demonstrated by the system’s lousy recidivism rate, its repeated scandals and multiple civil rights lawsuits, and the fact that the camps have been under Department of Justice scrutiny for more than a decade.

Now, however, LA County Probation (with the approval of the LA County Board of Supervisors) plans to completely redesign and rebuild one of its juvenile facilitates, Camp Kilpatrick, to the tune of $41 million. The idea is to transform the 50-year-old Malibu facility from its present dilapidated prison barracks-like atmosphere into a cluster of homey cottages, which will house therapeutic programs that borrow from the famed “Missouri Model”—developed by the State of Missouri, and hailed as the most widely respected juvenile justice system for rehabilitating kids in residential facilities.

The Missouri Model has already been replicated successfully in other locations including Washington, D.C. and Santa Clara, California.

The fact that LA County Probation plans to embrace some version of Missouri’s system is, of course, wonderful news—presuming that the County really follows through and, rather than make cosmetic changes, truly embraces a transformative model.

There is one other worry: Kilpatrick has offered one of the few bright spots in LA County’s otherwise dismal record with its juvenile facilities, and that is the camp’s sports program, which has been life-saving for many kids over the years, but is now slated for cancellation, as you’ll see from the story below.

We at WitnessLA applaud the proposed Kilpatrick transformation, and hope that LA County Probation, and related county agencies, find a way to stay faithful to their stated aspirations without killing Kirkpatrick’s sports program, which could be transferred to one of the other juvenile camps, at the very least.

We will, of course, continue to track this important story.


Camp Kilpatrick’s sports program will see it’s last season this fall before the facility undergoes rebuilding. Kilpatrick, currently the only juvenile detention facility in the county with a sports progam, will see renovations that provide more therapeutic conditions for the kids, but leave out the sports.

LA Times’ Sandy Banks has the story. Here’s a clip:

The sports program is simply collateral damage in a long-overdue campaign to make the troubled probation camps more responsive to delinquent teenagers’ needs.

“If we can get them to think in a more positive logical manner, in the long run they’ll make better decisions and won’t get themselves in trouble again,” Remington said.

But can’t a sports program teach those lessons, too? A bad attitude can get a player benched; a bad choice can get him dropped from the team.

Sports has plenty to offer wayward kids. Even probation honchos agree. “We certainly see the value in discipline, in learning to be a team member,” Remington said. “But no one has studied the sports program” to quantify its impact on delinquent kids.

So maybe it’s time they did — before they turn their camps into sports-free zones on the misguided notion that athletics don’t count and only “therapeutic” things make a difference.

It’s common sense that teenage boys need an outlet for their energy; a place to shine, a mandate to cooperate, a chance to see their teammates as comrades, not gang rivals.

The lessons camp therapists aim to teach — identifying strengths and weaknesses, setting and reaching goals, learning to say no to a short-term indulgence for the better long-term reward — are lessons teams learn through hours of practice, in the gym or on the field.

The probation department has made a mess of its calling over the years; mired in scandals and allegations of abuse, accused of doing nothing but warehousing kids.

This turn toward treatment is admirable, but the one-size-fits-all approach isn’t.

It’s the same sort of single-minded focus that’s hamstrung L.A. Unified schools, where the preoccupation with high-stakes testing has indeed improved academic performance. But in the process, it’s squeezed out other choices — art, music, vocational programs — that have been a lifeline for struggling kids.


The CA Supreme Court ruled last week that sentencing a juvenile to an excessive term of years that sets them up for a parole eligibility date past their life expectancy violates the Eight Amendment.

KPCC’s Rina Palta has the story. Here’s a clip:

That issue came up in a case out of Los Angeles County, in which a 16-year-old shot at three rival gang members, wounding one in the shoulder.

Rodrigo Caballero was convicted of three counts of attempted murder and sentenced to three consecutive terms. That meant Caballero would first become eligible for parole after 110 years in prison. Caballero appealed his sentence, arguing it violated the Graham ruling, which “holds that the Eighth Amendment requires the state to afford the juvenile offender a ‘meaningful opportunity to obtain release.’”

Prosecutors, meanwhile, said the Graham ruling was not intended to apply to attempted murder cases, and technically, Caballero would eventually, should he live long enough, have the chance to get out.

California’s Supreme Court justices sided with Caballero, conlcluding that “sentencing a juvenile offender for a nonhomicide offense to a term of years with a parole eligibility date that falls outside the juvenile offender’s natural life expectancy constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment.”

(The Caballero ruling can be found directly beneath the article text.)

SF Weekly’s Albert Samaha has an interesting take on both the CA Supreme Court decision and the Assembly’s passage of SB 9. Here’s a clip:

…The California Supreme Court declared such sentences unconstitutional, ordering that juveniles guilty of non-homicide crimes get an opportunity for parole in their lifetime.

The ruling came the same day the state Assembly passed a bill, first proposed by state Senator Leland Yee, that would allow juveniles serving life without parole to request a court to bump the sentence down to 25-to-life.

Both events appear part of a gradual transformation of the California prison system, which already look much different than it did 10, even five, years ago.

Since October 2011 — two years after the U.S. Supreme Court found California prisons unconstitutionally overcrowded -- the state inmate population has dropped by more than 26,000, making the system now only 60 percent overcapacity. While that pace might not be fast enough for the state to hit its goal — 37.5 percent overcapacity by June 2013 — at least we now have fewer prisoners than Texas, to which we have passed the highest prison population crown. Those numbers don’t, however, account for the fact that the state simply shifted much of the overcrowding problem to county jails.


CA officials evaded a federal request for an prison population reduction schedule, and instead requested more time to meet the current June 2013 deadline of 137.5% capacity. (For those of you who haven’t been following the overcrowding situation, you can read the back-story here.)

The San Jose Mercury has the AP story. Here’s a clip:

In a legal brief filed late Friday, lawyers for the state called the threat of an inmate release order “unwarranted” and said it oversteps the 2011 U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding population caps intended to correct horrific conditions within what was then the nation’s largest prison system.

The state ignores the court’s most recent order to provide information on how quickly it could begin releasing inmates. Instead, California asked a three-judge panel to suspend enforcement of crowding limits it now says it can’t meet.

The federal court’s goal is 137.5%, or no more than 112,000 inmates in prisons built to house 82,500 people. Lawyers for the state have warned jurists they do not expect to meet the June 30, 2013, deadline and will file a motion early next year seeking a higher cap.

Posted in California Supreme Court, CDCR, juvenile justice, Realignment, Sentencing | No Comments »

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